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UH Law Center profs decry government expansion of DNA databases in NYT op-ed

University of Houston Law Center Professor Jessica L. Roberts

Jessica L. Roberts

University of Houston Law Center Professor Daniel I. Morales

Daniel I. Morales

Jan. 23, 2020 — University of Houston Law Center Professors Daniel I. Morales and Jessica L. Roberts warn in a New York Times op-ed published today that the federal government’s new policy of collecting DNA from immigration detainees could lead to a dystopian society in which everyone is monitored by the state.

Virginia established the first forensic DNA database in 1989, followed by the federal government and all 50 states which collect and share genetic information through a national index system. Originally limited to sex offenders, the practice has expanded to include felons and, in some cases, people convicted of misdemeanors and those arrested, but not yet convicted. On Jan. 6, the federal government extended DNA collection to immigration detainees, including those seeking asylum, expanding the practice beyond criminality.

Morales, Roberts and co-author, Professor Natalie Ram, maintain that expansion puts all U.S. citizens at risk.

“History has repeatedly shown that freedom from the government’s prying eyes is essential for liberty,” they write, voicing concerns that a broadened national data base would not only raise constitutional issues of privacy and unreasonable search and seizure, but inhibit protest and political activism with the threat of tracking and monitoring. They also maintain that false DNA results could lead to wrongful criminal arrests and convictions and raise the specter that abuse of genetic data could lead to social engineering by determining the ”fitness” of immigrants both before and after they are admitted to the country.

“We as Americans should take heed of how these quiet expansions in genetic surveillance may threaten our democratic way of life,” they conclude.

Morales is an immigration law theorist and a George A. Butler Research Professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

Roberts is a bioethicist who specializes in people’s legal rights in their genetic data. She is the Leonard Childs Chair in Law and director of the Health Law & Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.

Natalie Ram is a genetic privacy scholar and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Read New York Times Op-Ed.

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