- Declan McCullagh
Millions of Americans arrested for but not convicted of crimes will likely have their DNA forcibly extracted and added to a national database, according to a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
By a 357 to 32 vote, the House approved legislation that will pay state governments to require DNA samples, which could mean drawing blood with a needle, from adults "arrested for" certain serious crimes. Not one Democrat voted against the database measure, which would hand out about $75 million to states that agree to make such testing mandatory.
"We should allow law enforcement to use all the technology available to them...to reduce expensive and unjust false convictions, bring closure to victims by solving cold cases, better identify criminals, and keep those who commit violent crime from walking the streets," said Rep. Harry Teague, the New Mexico Democrat who sponsored the bill.
But civil libertarians say DNA samples should be required only from people who have been convicted of crimes, and argue that if there is probable cause to believe that someone is involved in a crime, a judge can sign a warrant allowing a blood sample or cheek swab to be forcibly extracted.
"It's wrong to treat someone as guilty before they're convicted," says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute. "It inverts the concept of innocent until proven guilty."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership scheduled Tuesday's debate on the bill--called the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010--using a procedure known as the "suspension calendar" intended to be reserved for non-controversial legislation.
"Suspension of the rules is supposed to be for praising the winner of the NCAA championship or renaming Post Offices," Harper says. "Things like collecting Americans' DNA are supposed to be fully debated in Congress."
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