Transparency Project

Federal DNA Collection

EFF has been closely following government plans to collect DNA from more and more people in the US and abroad. DNA collection and profiling are quickly becoming cheaper (pdf), faster, easier, and more prevalent in society. Federal laws and regulations and an increasing number of state laws now require law enforcement to collect DNA from all people arrested for a crime—whether or not they are ever convicted. Thanks to these laws, federal and state DNA databanks have expanded exponentially over the last several years. The FBI’s federal CODIS DNA database now contains over 11.4 million DNA profiles. Nearly 2 million of those profiles came from California.

Recent changes in federal DNA laws also require DNA collection from non-US citizens who are detained by the government—even if they are not detained as part of a criminal investigation. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are considering collecting DNA from 1 million people subject to administrative detention or arrest annually, many of whom are juveniles. And USCIS has considered partnering with the FBI to collect DNA from refugee and asylum seekers and their family members (pdf, p.5). To save money, USCIS may store its DNA data in CODIS (the FBI's criminal database), even though these refugee and asylum seekers—like many DHS detainees and like arrestees who are never convicted—are not criminals.

DNA collection programs allow the government to obtain sensitive and private information on a person without any precursor level of suspicion and without showing that the data collected is tied to a specific crime. DNA can reveal an extraordinary amount of private information about you, including familial relationships, medical history, predisposition for disease, and possibly even behavioral tendencies and sexual orientation (pdf, p. 96). To find out more about these government programs, we've sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to several federal agencies. We'll post and report here on the records as we receive them.

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