Civil Liberties

Blood Drive


On The X-Files, if a government agency wanted to create a genetic database from samples of everyone's blood, it would conspire in the utmost secrecy. In the real world, however, such a vampiric scheme gets announced on the front pages of the papers.

That's what happened when Attorney General Janet Reno suggested earlier this year that the federal government should take DNA samples from anyone arrested in the United States–regardless of whether the arrest leads to a conviction. In grand Washington style, she convened an expert panel called the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence to consider the matter.

The commission–overwhelmingly composed of cops, judges, and government attorneys–recommended in July against launching Reno's blood drive, though not for reasons that will make civil libertarians breathe a sigh of relief. For instance, the panel failed to draw attention to an important distinction between Reno's proposed register and existing state-level databases: The latter mostly track specific sorts of convicted criminals, such as sex offenders.

Uninterested in issues such as the risk to privacy posed by government control of such sensitive genetic information, the commission instead merely noted that the state-level DNA banks are already backlogged, with hundreds of thousands of blood samples left uncataloged. The implication seemed to be that once samples can be processed more quickly, the commission will have no substantive objections to Reno's plan to draw blood from all arrested individuals.