U.S. Set to Begin a Vast Expansion of DNA Sampling

The New York Times reports today U.S. Set to Begin a Vast Expansion of DNA Sampling.

Peter Neufeld, a lawyer who is a co-director of the Innocence Project, which has exonerated dozens of prison inmates using DNA evidence, said the government was overreaching by seeking to apply DNA sampling as universally as fingerprinting.

“Whereas fingerprints merely identify the person who left them,” Mr. Neufeld said, “DNA profiles have the potential to reveal our physical diseases and mental disorders. It becomes intrusive when the government begins to mine our most intimate matters.”

Immigration lawyers said they did not learn of the measure when it passed last year and were dismayed by its sweeping scope.

“This has taken us by storm,” said Deborah Notkin, a lawyer who was president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association last year. “It’s so broad, it’s scary. It is a terrible thing to do because people are sometimes detained erroneously in the immigration system.”

Immigration lawyers noted that most immigration violations, including those committed when people enter the country illegally, are civil, not criminal, offenses. They warned that the new law would make it difficult for immigrants to remove their DNA profiles from the federal database, even if they were never found to have committed any serious violation or crime.

Under the new law, DNA samples would be taken from any illegal immigrants who are detained and would normally be fingerprinted, justice officials said. Last year federal customs, Border Patrol and immigration agents detained more than 1.2 million immigrants, the majority of them at the border with Mexico. About 238,000 of those immigrants were detained in immigration enforcement investigations. A great majority of all immigration detainees were fingerprinted, immigration officials said. About 102,000 people were arrested on federal charges not related to immigration in 2005.

While the proposed rules have not been finished, justice officials said they were certain to bring a huge new workload for the F.B.I. laboratory that logs, analyzes and stores federal DNA samples. Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said they anticipated an increase ranging from 250,000 to as many as 1 million samples a year.

The laboratory currently receives about 96,000 samples a year, said Robert Fram, chief of the agency’s Scientific Analysis Section.