HARRISBURG – After three legislative sessions of vetting and debating an expansion of the commonwealth’s DNA collection law, the state House of Representatives has crafted that legislation to balance the needs of law enforcement with the privacy rights of Pennsylvanians, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today in a statement.
While previous versions of the legislation, now Senate Bill 683, mandated collection of DNA from people not convicted of a crime and allowed familial searches- the ability to connect people in the database to their family members- the current version expands post-conviction collection to additional offenses without the provisions previously in the bill.
“A person who has been arrested or charged but not convicted still has fundamental rights, including the right to be considered innocent under the law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Collecting DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime without a court order turned that basic concept on its head.
“Pennsylvanians can appreciate that a bipartisan group of state representatives recognized this defect and fixed the bill.”
Last month, the House Judiciary Committee passed an amendment by Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin County) to remove the mandate to collect DNA pre-conviction and to expand post-conviction collection to all first-degree misdemeanors and some second-degree misdemeanors. Yesterday, the House unanimously agreed to an amendment by Representative Brandon Neuman (D-Washington County) to remove the language that allowed familial searches.
With those changes, the ACLU of Pennsylvania dropped its opposition and is now neutral on the bill.
“Allowing familial searches in the DNA database creates a host of privacy problems,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We all share DNA with our relatives. With familial searches, the presence of one person’s DNA profile in the database means that person and every member of his or her family are now in the database. That creates a massive pool of permanent suspects. And it disproportionately impacts people of color, who have been unfairly targeted in the war on drugs and by over-policing in minority neighborhoods.”
The legislation is now prepared for a final vote in the state House.