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1999 ACLU Warns of Privacy Abuses in Government Plan to Expand DNA Databases

Reverend Loki
“You have been taught your duty as a spy, to gather all statistics, facts and information in your power from every source; to ingratiate yourself into the confidence of the family circle of Protestants and heretics of every class and character, as well as that of the merchant, the banker, the lawyer, among the schools and universities, in parliaments and legislatures, and the judiciaries and councils of state, and to be all things to all men, for the Pope’s sake, whose servants we are unto death.”

March 1, 1999
DALLAS, TX – The American Civil Liberties Union believes that any proposal to create wholesale DNA data banks of suspects presents a frightening potential for a ‘brave new world’ in which genetic information is routinely collected and used in ways that will likely result in abuse and discrimination.
Attorney General Janet Reno has asked National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence to study the legality of taking DNA samples from everyone arrested instead of just the convicted sex offenders and violent felons currently permitted by law. I welcome the opportunity to testify before the Commission today about the civil liberties issues such a proposal raises.
While the ACLU does not oppose any specific type of technology, we are deeply concerned that every expansion of the data banks and every new use for the data opens the door to more and more privacy abuses.
Our government has a long, sad history of creating database that inevitably undergo what I will call ‘function creep.” By this I mean data bases that are created for one discrete purpose, yet despite initial promises of their creator, eventually take on new functions and purposes.
In the 1930′s, for example, promises were made that the Social Security numbers would only be used as an aid for the new retirement program, but over the past 60 years they have become the universal identifier which their creators claimed they would not be. Similarly, census records created for general statistical purposes were used during World War II to round up innocent Japanese Americans and to place them in interment camps.
We are already beginning to see that function creep in DNA databases. In less than a decade, we have gone from collecting DNA from convicted sex offenders — on the theory that they are likely to be recidivists and may leave biological evidence — to creating data banks of all violent offenders, of all persons convicted of a crime, of juvenile offenders in 29 states, and now to proposals to DNA-test all arrestees.

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