Does Obtaining DNA Evidence Jeopardize Privacy?

December 29, 1998

The use of DNA evidence has been a boon to crime fighters here and in England. To obtain the necessary blood or saliva sample from suspects requires either a warrant or court order here, while there is no such requirement in England.

Some law-enforcement officials in the U.S. argue that those requirements should be removed. But privacy advocates contend that would violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Here is a profile of Britain's DNA successes in fighting crime:

  • With a database of more than 445,000 arrestee profiles, they have made more than 38,000 matches since 1995.
  • In a recent 18-month period, they identified 46 murder, 175 rape and more than 19,000 burglary suspects.
  • At present, they are making 300 to 500 identifications a week.

Here is what has happened in U.S. law enforcement:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation's convicted offender databank contains about 250,000 profiles, which has provided about 450 matches.
  • New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir reports that of 100 rape and sodomy arrests there, only 18 suspects had prior convictions that would place them in the federal databank.
  • However, 75 had previous arrests that would place them in a databank if restrictions were lifted on testing.

Safir notes that 56 convicted felons throughout the nation have been released when their DNA did not match that of the perpetrator of a crime. He argues that the DNA "fingerprints" of innocent suspects would be destroyed and not entered into the database.

Sources: Editorial, "Police Plan for DNA Testing Puts Innocent at Risk," and Howard Safir, "DNA a Key Crime-Fighting Tool," both in USA Today, December 29, 1998.

 

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