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Proposal to Collect DNA From Immigrants Too Orwellian: Opinion

by Opinion staffDaily News
January 31st, 2013

Michael A. Ramos, district attorney of San Bernardino County

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos goes too far - too deep into Orwellian territory -- in proposing that undocumented immigrants be required to submit DNA samples as a condition of staying in the United States.

Ramos is a good prosecutor and district attorney, respected enough by his peers to be a past president of the California District Attorneys Association and a current board member of the National District Attorneys Association. He is a staunch defender of victims' rights and works hard on gang suppression.

He views the collection of DNA as a tool that is available to law enforcement, and so should be used to catch bad guys. That's his job.

From a societal standpoint, it's a bad idea.

Ramos said collecting DNA from immigrants would not be much different from legal requirements for law enforcement officers to be fingerprinted, but there's a huge difference. Fingerprints simply identify a person; DNA not only identifies him but reveals his complete genetic profile, including susceptibilities to disease.

Who knows what else DNA will reveal under future technologies? It could be devastating to have such information fall into the wrong hands, or even to be controlled by government.

The prospect of collecting DNA samples from millions of people who have not been convicted nor are suspected of a crime - whose only known offense is the civil infraction of crossing the border -- would be a major
step down the path toward a Big Brother society.

This is a slippery slope argument, to be sure, but it's more than theoretical. We are already slipping down this slope, surrendering privacy and liberty.

Witness Proposition 69, the measure passed by California voters in 2004 that mandates collection of DNA from anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony. This page vigorously opposed that initiative, not because we have any problem with a DNA database of convicted felons, but because including innocent people in such a database was anathema. About 50,000 Californians a year are arrested on felony charges but never convicted.

Proposition 69 is under review by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, challenged rightly as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. It's the fact that a police officer can take a DNA sample at the point of arrest - with no warrant and no conviction - that makes the law a violation of the amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Unfortunately, President Obama this month signed into law a bill by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, meant to encourage the collection of DNA from those arrested on suspicion of felonies. Again, if it dealt with those convicted, there'd be no issue.

If it's OK to seize DNA from arrestees, then from immigrants, who's next?

"Innocent until proven guilty" is a foundation of American democracy and freedom. When we chip away at that, we're sliding toward Big Brother's totalitarianism.

There is ever-present tension between security and freedom in any human society. The balance tends to shift as people become more or less afraid, as could be seen in the national rush to curtail privacy and liberties after the 9-11 attacks on the United States.

The line should be drawn short of the ultimate invasion of privacy of people who are presumed innocent.

- Opinion staff

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