PBS’s “Nova Next” reports on the expansion of DNA databases, and the biometric data collection has implications for privacy rights:
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested for serious crimes—without a warrant, much less a conviction. Like bits of DNA taken from people found guilty, those samples can be entered into a database and used not only for the case at hand, but compared to other crime scene samples, connecting the arrestee to past crimes. […]
Today, 28 states and the federal government already collect genetic samples from people arrested for serious crimes (mostly felonies, though some jurisdictions include certain misdemeanors as well), while the remaining 22 states only take samples from people convicted of those crimes. The recent ruling is likely to have wide-reaching implications—both for states that already have databases and for those that don’t, yet. […]
Depending on whom you ask, DNA databases herald a future of either lower crime or less privacy. Many of the arguments echo the Supreme Court ruling and dissent: Proponents say the databases help police catch dangerous criminals faster and identify offenders who had eluded detection, thus providing a big pay-off for each law enforcement dollar. Others object to the databases on the grounds that they violate privacy by storing genetic data, are an inefficient use of limited resources, or are likely to encompass more and more people—perhaps including those never even suspected of a crime.
DNA databases have been expanding, and rapidly improving technology is poised to generate more detailed profiles more quickly. The question now is what the future will look like, particularly in the wake of the Court’s decision. […]
Even if the profile itself reveals relatively little information, many people are concerned that most jurisdictions keep an individual’s sample—which contains their full genome and all the personal information it could reveal—after their profile has been entered into the database. If a person is exonerated, they can have their profile deleted and their sample discarded, though the process can be difficult. […]
With more than half the states taking samples from arrestees, DNA databases have grown rapidly. At the national level, CODIS has more than 10.1 million offender DNA profiles and 1.3 million arrestee DNA profiles as of January 2013. Together, that’s over 3.5% of the U.S. population. According to the FBI’s website, the network “has produced over 200,300 hits assisting in more than 192,400 investigations” as of January 2013.
At this point, the only thing that’s limiting the expansion of DNA databases is the fact that samples often come in faster than labs can analyze them. That’s produced enormous backlogs.