President Barack Obamas embrace of a national database to store the DNA of people arrested but not necessarily convicted of a crime is heartening to backers of the policy but disappointing to criminal-justice reformers, who view it as an invasion of privacy.
Others also worry the practice would adversely affect minorities.
In an interview aired Saturday on Americas Most Wanted, Obama expressed strong agreement as host John Walsh extolled the virtues of collecting DNA at the time of an arrest and putting it into a single, national database.
We have 18 states who are taking DNA upon arrest, Walsh said. Its no different than fingerprinting or a booking photo. ... Since those states have been doing it, it has cleared 200 people that are innocent from jail.
Its the right thing to do, Obama replied. This is where the national registry becomes so important, because what you have is individual states they may have a database, but if theyre not sharing it with the state next door, youve got a guy from Illinois driving over into Indiana, and theyre not talking to each other.
Erin Runnion, whose 5-year-old daughter Samantha was murdered in 2002, was delighted at Obamas remarks. I am thrilled that the president seems to be supportive of DNA upon felony arrest. I think well prevent future crimes across this country by doing it, she said. Im absolutely 100 percent in favor of it.
Some opponents of the idea, though, were taken aback.
Im actually surprised he would give an answer like that, said Deborah Peterson Small of Break the Chains, which studies the impact of drug laws on minority groups. Id think he and people around him would know that collecting DNA samples from arrestees is more controversial than collecting it from people whove been convicted.
Its a horrible idea tremendously invasive, said Bill Quigley of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who also disputed Walshs claim that DNA is no different from fingerprints.
Its like a hair sample, looking at your health care records and everything else, Quigley said. Its like giving a blank check to the government a blank check they can cash anytime they feel like it.
In a provocative report two years ago, titled Building Jim Crows Database, Small and other critics charged that DNA-upon-arrest provisions disproportionately affect minorities because they are more likely to be arrested, even if not convicted.
Its racially incredibly skewed, she said.
A White House spokesman declined to explain or elaborate on Obamas remarks.
In 2004, Californians overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure requiring DNA testing, usually by a swab inside the cheek, for all felony arrests and some others. And in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought to go even further, proposing DNA tests for everyone arrested in the city, even for misdemeanors.
Just days before Obama took office, the Bush administration implemented a 2006 law to take DNA from federal arrestees, including immigration detainees. Court challenges to DNA-upon-arrest programs are under way, encountering mixed results.
The federal system and many states allow arrestees to seek to remove their DNA from the database when they are acquitted or never charged. But officials say such requests are rarely made.
Criminologist James Fox of Northeastern University in Boston said he was surprised by Obamas comment on DNA-upon-arrest and by his decision even to do an interview with the crime-focused TV show.
Theres always been controversy about Americas Most Wanted, not just among civil libertarians but [also among] criminologists, about telling the public to be on the lookout for a guy who looks like this fellow, Fox said.
Walsh stressed in the exchange with Obama that his show is not about Americans being vigilantes or anything like that.
Fox also said he wouldnt recommend DNA-upon-arrest to Obama as a priority. Id much rather see him deal with ballistic fingerprinting and repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment, which limits gun tracing, Fox said.
Small said Obamas comments in the interview underscored her concern that the administration hasnt done much to root out unfairness in the criminal-justice system.
I supported Obama. I still support Obama, she said. Im very disappointed. Hes done next to nothing in the area of criminal-justice reform. (3.09.2010, Josh Gerstein) http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/34097.html
"To Achieve World
Government it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism,
their loyalty to family traditions and national identification" Brock Chisholm - Director of the World Health Organization
"A society whose citizens refuse to see and investigate the facts, who refuse to believe that their government and their media will routinely lie to them and fabricate a reality contrary to verifiable facts, is a society that chooses and deserves the Police State Dictatorship it's going to get." Ian Williams Goddard
The fact is that "political correctness" is all about creating uniformity. Individualism is one of the biggest obstacles in the way of the New World Order. They want a public that is predictable and conditioned to do as it's told without asking questions.
"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." Thomas Jefferson