Individual Rights

Federal court to hear pivotal DNA collection case as similar laws spread across country

Lily Haskell was arrested while attending a peace rally in San Francisco in March 2009.

Police took her fingerprints and swabbed the inside of her cheek to collect a sample of Haskell’s DNA, which was entered into a state database and shared with a federal database run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  She was never charged with a crime and was soon free to go.

But her most private, biological data will remain with the state indefinitely.

All 50 states and the federal government take samples of DNA from anyone convicted of a felony.  But in recent years, many states have passed laws allowing police to take DNA samples at arrest – before a suspect is charged with a crime, much less found guilty – and enter them into state-level databases along with the national DNA database run by the FBI.

Though the state-level laws vary in terms of how long the DNA evidence can be kept – some, like California, allow it to be kept permanently, while other states require the information to be deleted if a suspect is not charged or found innocent – they all raise concerns about privacy and due process, since an individual’s DNA can be taken without consent or judicial approval.

“Now my genetic information is stored indefinitely in a government database, simply because I was exercising my right to speak out,” Haskell, now a plaintiff in a legal challenge to the California law, said in a statement.

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