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US government to set up DNA bank as law enforcement tool

Published: Monday February 5, 2007
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WASHINGTON - US authorities will soon begin collecting DNA samples from suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities, including hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the New York Times reported.

The new rules, which are being put in place by the US Justice Department, aim to make the practice of collecting DNA samples as routine as fingerprinting for anyone detained by federal agents.

Until now, federal authorities have taken DNA samples only from convicted felons, but the new rules would allow a vast expansion of that practice.

Illegal immigrants are by far the largest group affected by the policy change, the daily wrote.

The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by the US Congress January 2006 in a little-noticed amendment to a bill combating violence against women.

The law has strong support from crime victims' organizations and some women's groups, who say it will help law enforcement identify sexual predators.

But civil liberties advocates say the rule is intrusive and overreaching.

"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," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which has exonerated dozens of prison inmates using DNA evidence.

Immigration lawyers also expressed concern.

"This has taken us by storm," said Deborah Notkin, a lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Times.