DNA profiles from hundreds of thousands of juvenile offenders and adults arrested but not convicted of crimes could be added to the FBI’s national DNA crime-fighting program under a proposed law moving through Congress.

The law, if enacted, would be the greatest single expansion of the federal government’s power to collect and use DNA since the FBI’s national database was created in 1992. The FBI says its national DNA database holds genetic profiles from about 1.4 million adults convicted of state and federal crimes.

The changes, in a little-noticed section of a bill that would authorize $755 million for DNA testing, were approved by the House of Representatives on Nov. 5. Backers say the Senate is likely to approve a similar version by early next year.

The FBI system works by using computers to match a person’s DNA, the cellular acid that contains an individual’s unique genetic code, to DNA taken from unsolved state and federal crimes. Using DNA drawn from convicted adults, the system made 8,920 matches through September, the FBI says.

Proponents, including the Bush administration, say that expanding the number of profiles in the database would greatly increase the number of crimes solved. Keeping DNA profiles on file to solve future crimes, they argue, differs little from maintaining a database of fingerprints, which the FBI also does.

The American Civil Liberties Union counters that DNA is different because it contains genetic information that should be kept private. Taking a person’s DNA before he is even convicted, said ACLU Washington lobbyist Jesselyn McCurdy, “removes the presumption of innocence.”

Advocates for juveniles say that giving teenagers what amounts to a “permanent criminal genetic record” defeats the purpose of the juvenile justice system by treating the youths as adults.

“It runs counter to the tenets of juvenile court, which is toward confidentiality and giving a child another opportunity to turn around,” said Nancy Gannon of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which advises state governments on justice policy.

Thirty states already collect DNA from juvenile offenders, typically ages 13-17, for their own use. In 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 634,000 youths were found responsible for crimes by juvenile courts or other authorities.

Virginia began taking DNA from arrestees in January and expects to collect 8,000 samples this year. Other states are considering arrestee sampling. To date, Virginia has matched DNA taken from arrestees to 40 unsolved crimes, including 11 sexual assaults. But federal laws prevent these samples from being added to the national database and compared to unsolved crimes in other states.
More here.