US House endorses genetic mug shots

Legislation authoring collecting and storing genetic data from people merely suspected of crimes has sailed through the US House of Representatives. This has happened with barely a squeak in the American media although it was a major issue in the recent UK election. Under the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010 the Federal government would pay state governments to require DNA samples, which could mean drawing blood with a needle, from adults "arrested for" certain serious crimes. A total of US$75 million would be handed out to the states.

"We should allow law enforcement to use all the technology available 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 “Katie’s Law”.

Civil libertarians in the US and UK say that building up a national DNA database of suspected criminals would be a regressive step. It would have hard to remove the information once it was on the database; it would link race and genes to crime; and it would create unwarranted certainty about the reliability of genetic information.

The new deputy prime minister in the UK, Nick Clegg, has made privacy a central plank in his government’s promise of a revival of British democracy. In a speech this week he said:

"This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens. It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop. So there will be no ID card scheme. No national identity register, a halt to second generation biometric passports. We won't hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so. CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA database, with restrictions on the storage of innocent people's DNA. Britain must not be a country where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question. There will be no ContactPoint children's database. Schools will not take children's fingerprints without even asking their parent's consent. This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state." 

It’s odd that across the Atlantic the government is moving in the opposite direction. ~ CNet, May 19; hat tip to Eric Spaulding

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