A New Era of DNA Collections: At What Cost to Civil Liberties?

Tania Simoncelli and Sheldon Krimsky
Publication Date: 
September 9, 2007

ACS is pleased to distribute an issue brief by Tania Simoncelli, Science Advisor in the Technology and Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, and Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, entitled “A New Era of DNA Collections: At What Cost to Civil Liberties?” In this issue brief, Simoncelli and Krimsky describe the increasing use by law enforcement of DNA databanks and express concern about the civil liberties ramifications of this expansion. DNA is not like fingerprints, they argue, noting that a person’s tissue must be mined to reveal individualized information about a person well beyond that necessary for identification. DNA databanks are growing, they are being searched for characteristics such as race and familial connections, among other things, and law enforcement officials are seeking new ways to obtain the DNA of individuals. The authors assert that uses of DNA in the law enforcement context are being driven by developments in technology, rather than as a result of an informed public policy debate. They question whether the law enforcement uses of DNA databanks of the presumed innocent or the actually innocent are justified given the enormous privacy and civil liberties concerns raised. Finally, Simoncelli and Krimsky provide a brief set of recommendations to contribute to achieving an appropriate balance between law enforcement and civil liberties.