Bill would collect DNA, send to national database

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Protect Your DNA

The presumption of innocence lies at the heart of our system of criminal justice, but a bill that will be voted on by the House on Wednesday deeply undercuts that presumption. The bill, H-7304A, requires DNA samples to be taken from individuals who are merely arrested, but never convicted, for a wide array of crimes so that the samples can be placed in a national DNA database. Even more troubling, the bill contains few protections for the many innocent people who will have their DNA samples taken. (The law already requires that a DNA sample be taken from any person convicted of a felony.)

For four years, the ACLU has advocated for strong privacy protections to be included in any arrestee DNA law. Despite mirroring the laws and best practices of other states, many of these protections are absent from the bill the House will vote on. In an editorial Sunday, the Providence Journal said the legislation "overreaches and provides insufficient safeguards for the innocent" and called on lawmakers to narrowly tailor the bill.

There is still time! Contact your Representative and encourage them to oppose the bill unless it contains these protections for your privacy:

Automatically Expunge The Samples of Innocent People
H 7304A burdens innocent people with having to formally petition the court to have their DNA removed from the system, and will therefore leave the DNA samples of many innocent people in the database. Instead, it should be the responsibility of the state to ensure that any innocent person’s DNA is automatically expunged.

Allow Sample Submission Only Upon Arrangement
H 7304A requires the DNA to be collected and submitted once a person is arrested for the crime, even they end up never being formally charged. This gives police the opportunity to engage in “pretext” arrests in order to obtain a person’s DNA sample, and then dropping any charges once the sample has been obtained.

Require Transparency
Despite the concerns of many Rhode Islanders about the DNA program, the law contains no public accountability. An annual review including the financial costs and number of DNA samples collected, and whether matches have led to any convictions, will let Rhode Islanders weigh the costs and benefits of this intrusive mandate.

Automatically End or Reevaluate the Program in Three Years
Placing a “sunset clause” in the legislation – a common practice – will allow for a reevaluation in three years to determine whether the DNA program is, as many fear, exacerbating the backlog of DNA testing for criminal investigations, capturing a large number of individuals later proven innocent, or resulting in tremendous financial cost to the state.

Ban on Familial Searching
DNA not only tells everything about you, but also about your blood relatives. Under H 7304A, law enforcement can arrest your blood relative, never charge them with a crime, but use their DNA to investigate family members. A ban on “familial searching,” as exists in other states, prevents the DNA database from being used for fishing expeditions.

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