FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 16, 2009
Brandon Hensler, Director of Communications, (786) 363-2737 or email@example.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida opposed SB 2276 – referred to as the DNA Database Bill – during the Florida Legislature’s 2009 session, and now that Governor Crist has signed it into law the ACLU says the governor is making the privacy of Floridians vulnerable.
The following statement can be attributed to Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director:
“Governor Crist today signed a bill that will radically expand Florida’s DNA collection program -- a program that collects people’s most personal information -- to individuals who have not been convicted of any crime.
“The government is going to expand Florida’s DNA database to include everyone arrested for a felony, even if they are innocent. This includes people for whom charges are never filed, for whom charges are dismissed or who are found not guilty.
“Anti-big government conservatives should be up in arms about this – this is a major overstep by our government.
“In a few years when the required funding is in place there will inevitably be a security breach – when, for example, innocent people are denied a job, insurance coverage or medical benefits because of information in their DNA such as a propensity for a disease, or simply private information on them is revealed without their consent. When that happens, we should remember that people who called themselves ‘conservative’ in 2009 were asleep at the switch.”
The ACLU argued that if the Florida Legislature insists on expanding the DNA database, then DNA should not be collected prior to conviction or, if it is collected before then, that it be destroyed if the person is found innocent. Unfortunately, the Legislature rejected this proposal and in so doing, converted a DNA database into a tool for surveillance rather than one for investigating crime.
In America, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Thousands of people are arrested or detained every year and never charged with a crime. Housing a person’s DNA in a criminal database renders that person an automatic suspect for any future crime – without warrant, probable cause, or individualized suspicion.
Law enforcement already has ample authority to collect a DNA sample from an arrested individual in those cases where a court-issued warrant supported by probable cause is first obtained.
The privacy stakes associated with collecting and warehousing law abiding individuals’ DNA are far greater than for fingerprints. Once an agency or individual has a DNA sample, the sample can be tested for many types of information. Unlike fingerprints, DNA samples can provide insights into personal family relationships, disease predisposition, physical attributes, and ancestry.
The expansion of DNA databases to arrestees will also perpetuate racial biases that are systemic to our criminal justice system. The persistent and well-documented practice of discriminatory profiling by law enforcement combined with expanded DNA collection would result in an increasingly skewed criminal database in which minorities and poor people are overrepresented.
Racial disparities are especially dramatic at the point of arrest. If arrestees are included in the DNA databank, the demographics of individuals included will not represent the population of actual offenders, but will instead become a discriminatory catalogue of the genetic information of minority communities, which does not serve public safety.
State law enforcement agencies appear to have bought the line that the bigger the databank the more effective it is. This is misguided. At best, this is a situation of diminishing returns: as we expand the database to ever more categories of individuals and to the innocent, the likelihood that these individuals will ever be involved in a crime involving DNA evidence is less and less. You can’t find a needle in a haystack by making the haystack bigger.
About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.
# # #