New York on Verge of Massive Expansion of State DNA Database

by jeeg 15. June 2010 01:39

As of April, New York state's DNA databank contained the genetic profiles of 356,054 people, most of them criminals. A decision later this month could, in effect, add millions more, whose only "offense" is being related to a convict.


No, their DNA won't actually be in the system. But the mere fact that it resembles genetic material that is in the databank would be enough to put them on law enforcement's radar.


This decision to use DNA in an entirely new way won't be made by lawmakers, but by an appointed board -- the Commission on Forensic Science -- some of whose own members say the panel is going too far.


I agree. This issue -- which is really about how we balance privacy and civil rights with the desire to fight crime as effectively as possible -- belongs in the hands of elected representatives and a full and open process with public and expert input.


At issue is whether to allow the state's DNA databank to notify police when it finds a "partial match" of DNA collected during a criminal investigation. Currently, identities of people in the databank can be disclosed only if their DNA is an exact match.


A partial match, however, is a strong indicator that the DNA belongs to a close relative, typically a parent or child, and, more remotely, a sibling. Advocates of using partial matches say they give police key leads, particularly in crimes with no suspects. Not allowing forensic scientists to share this information with police, they say, is ethically wrong.


Of course the problem is that this would make potential suspects out of many law abiding people, subjecting them to unwarranted invasions of privacy and forcing them to prove their innocence.


Four of the commission's 14 members, including three lawyers and a former judge, say the law allows DNA to be used to identify a likely perpetrator, not a roster of

suspects, and that it's the job of the Legislature and governor to make such far-reaching decisions as this.


They've been outvoted by other panelists, who include district attorneys, scientists, and representatives of State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice Services. The final vote is set for June 29.


This comes as the state is looking to greatly expand the DNA databank.  Currently, the law limits DNA sampling to people convicted of a felony or one of 35 misdemeanors, representing less than half the people convicted of state penal law crimes. Governor Paterson has proposed to make New York the first in the nation to require DNA for every crime in its penal law, adding an estimated 48,000 people a year.


The question of whether New York should do that will be considered by the Legislature and I hope they consult the mounting body of evidence that indicates these changes will produce no meaningul decrease in crime. Indeed the discussion comes as other countries like the United Kingdom are re-evaluating the "bigger is better" approach.The partial DNA issue should likewise be debated by our representatives with the input of the public and experts, not a small appointed panel dominated by people excited by technology's potential to fight crime, but not necessarily mindful of the cost to our liberties



6/18/2010 7:25:00 PM #

Shannon McMillan

This is an issue that could possibly cause more lawsuits for the penal system than it already has. Someone's partial DNA match to a criminal doesn't mean that they should be put on the radar. Haven't they ever heard of personality and individualism?

Shannon McMillan United States |

6/19/2010 12:11:45 AM #


Shannon, I agree. That is such an articulate comment about criminals and their personality. Where do you get your resources from?

Miley United States |

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