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CA Dem introduces bill to renovate state’s DNA collection powers

posted Jul 29, 2015, 12:42 PM by Resty Manapat

With the introduction of a new bill by a seeming protector of citizens’ DNA, privacy advocates and civil libertarians in California have a unique opportunity to reignite the data collection debate.

Earlier this year, Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced Assembly Bill 170, which would limit California’s ability to retain DNA samples taken from residents at birth. Since California is one of the seven states that retain DNA and blood samples from newborns–a procedure that is carried out without parental consent–the bill was welcomed by many defenders of personal privacy. While the bill has been amended and re-referred to the Health committee, Gatto is now working to legislatively overhaul a DNA collection law that previously ruled the intrusion to be unconstitutional. 

Gatto’s new bill, AB 1492, aims to invalidate parts of a 2014 court decision, People v. Buza, which overturned Proposition 69, a 2004 law that required every person arrested on felony suspicions in California to provide DNA samples to the state and federal governments. The 2004 initiative was controversial because it granted the government authority to collect DNA samples from arrestees who hadn’t been charged or convicted of any crime. 

People v. Buza involved a San Francisco man who was found guilty of arson, vandalism, possession of a combustible device, and “refusal or failure to provide DNA specimen.” 

The court’s final decision was penned by Justice J. Anthony Kline, stating that the “California DNA Act intrudes too quickly and too deeply into the privacy interests of arrestees.” Because “62 percent of felony arrestees who were not ultimately convicted—almost 20 percent of total felony arrestees—were never even charged with a crime,” the court found that requirements concerning DNA collection were in violation of the state’s constitution. 

In the Golden State, “privacy” is enumerated as an “inalienable right.” Therefore, to Justice Kline, laws requiring bulk DNA collection of felons are clearly unconstitutional. The invalidation of Prop 69 forced California to halt its collection of DNA samples. To Gatto, this decision hinders the investigation of serious crimes. 

With AB 1492, Gatto hopes to address the court’s past concerns by only allowing DNA collection under particular circumstances. Gatto’s legislation allows the collection of blood and DNA samples only upon court process and if the authorities present probable cause. If felons accused are acquitted or their cases are dismissed, Gatto’s bill claims DNA samples would be destroyed. 

If AB 1492 passes, felons who are not required to provide samples may be persuaded to provide them as a plea condition or in exchange for reduction or dismissal of charges. In said cases, authorities would be required to disclose how the DNA samples will be used in writing prior to the collection. Once the consent is granted—also in writing—authorities may collect blood or buccal swap samples for analysis. The bill also asserts that the DNA samples currently present in state or federal DNA databases that belong to people who have no present or past qualifying offense, will be destroyed. 

While Gatto addresses most of the concerns raised by Justice Kline with his new bill, one matter is left unresolved. 

According to People v. Buza’s decision, bulk collection of DNA samples are often exposed to “risks of unauthorized leaks or research, as well as human error in the processing and analyzing of DNA.” In the past, federal government’s unreliable handling of DNA evidence in crime investigations raised serious questions concerning subjective forensic techniques. As the Cato Institute reports, courts often fail to keep deceptive scientific information from juries and analysts, and the maintenance of a nationwide DNA database, some argue, may invite abuse. 

AB 1492 has passed the Assembly and the Committee on Public Safety, but was amended afterwards and referred to the Senate Appropriation committee where it awaits a vote. 

Source: Watchdog Arena