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You think the Patriot Act was bad…

I am all about fighting crime, having lived in NYC during the 70s when the city was at the apex of lawlessness. That ’77 blackout was amazingly frightening — you had mass looting and complete anarchy. However, Californians must have been smoking something when they passed Proposition 69 which says the DNA of anyone arrested, even if they are not ultimately charged with a felony, will be put into a database. That is a 100% guarantee that some innocent people are going to get trapped in this system if arrest is the sole criteria.

The Bush Justice Department loves this sort of thing — wouldn’t this add to our “safety” against the war on terror?. And, sadly, there will be mass support by the “sheeple” for this despite the privacy warning lights flashing here. The altruistic goal of this measure (which can be used to clear someone of a crime as well) will ultimately be perverted by people in power. (Wired):

Californians recently approved a measure to create one of the nation’s most aggressive criminal DNA databases, but civil liberties groups and privacy advocates are fighting to get it scaled back.

Law enforcement officials say Proposition 69 will be a boon to solving a growing backlog of violent crime cases, but it also raises the possibility of innocent people getting trapped in the vast database along with murderers and rapists and having limited ability to get their file expunged.

The new law, officially called the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act, is expected to add the genetic data of 1 million people to California’s databank over the five years, making it the largest state-run DNA databank in the country.

The law, approved by 62 percent of the state’s voters in the Nov. 2 election, allows police to take DNA samples from every adult and juvenile convicted of a felony and from all adults arrested for specific felonies such as sexual assault and murder. In 2009, the law will be broadened to enable police to gather DNA data from anyone arrested for any felony — ranging from residential burglary to murder — whether or not they are ever charged or convicted with a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to file a lawsuit challenging the act before the end of the year, but a spokeswoman from the Northern California chapter of the ACLU would not discuss details of that case, saying the group is still working out the details.

Attempts to legally block DNA databases in other states have not succeeded. In Wisconsin, for example, a

lawsuit
filed earlier this year by prisoners who argued that giving DNA samples violated their 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure was tossed out by a federal appeals court.

Critics say collecting DNA of mere suspects subverts the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty. While 35 other states require DNA samples to be taken from convicted felons, Louisiana is the only other state that requires testing of people arrested for a felony.

Under the new law, the state government has no obligation to remove the files of people who are arrested and later cleared of crimes. To expunge their genetic fingerprint from the state’s forensic library, Californians will have to petition first to the trial court presiding the case, then the local district attorney’s office and the state Department of Justice. And there’s no guarantee that an innocent citizen will prevail: The court can deny the removal request and that decision can not be appealed.

The law was considered so draconian that the editorial boards over 30 California newspapers opposed it, along with a solid array of privacy and political groups.

Even California Attorney General Bill Lockyer voiced doubts about the measure’s extensive reach.

“I personally wouldn’t have put arrests in the measure,” Lockyer said on San Francisco’s public radio station, KQED, in October. He also said that he would have made it simpler for people to get their information off the files.

I think that many Californians were not fully informed about the full scope of the initiative,” said Maya Harris, a staff attorney for the Northern California chapter of the ACLU. “The proponents of the proposition misled people into believing it only applied to people that had been convicted of a crime.”

Prop. 69 was backed by all California’s major law enforcement agencies, including police departments and D.A. offices. Officials point to the success of Virginia’s DNA database, which includes nonviolent felons. Virginia has 216,000 DNA profiles in its forensic library which have solved 2,000 cases, according to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. In comparison, California’s 274,000 files — limited to violent felons — have solved a little over a 1,000 cases.

Proponents of DNA databases argue that innocent people have no reason to fear giving their genetic information to authorities solely for identification purposes, but misidentification through DNA testing is not unheard of.

Tight security measures would make a similar fiascos nearly impossible at California’s state crime lab, a California DOJ spokeswoman implied.

“Only three people are allowed to access the databank,” said Hallye Jordan.

Do they think we’re stupid (well, I guess over 60% of Californian’s are at the very least ill-informed)? Of course I believe it will result in more convictions. Of course it will prevent misidentification. That isn’t the issue. It’s about access and misuse of the DNA records themselves and who gets tossed in the pool. It’s because this unerring identifier can and will be handled and seen by human beings that may have more than crime-fighting in mind. Clerical error, mislabeling and downright incompetence usually results when human beings think they’ve set up an infallible system — and it is likely to place this information in the hands of the wrong people. But you see how the spin works.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding