Bills would require DNA samples from burglars

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state could take DNA samples from convicted burglars for a state registry under a bill moving through the state Senate.

The bill's supporters say it could help solve violent crimes, but civil libertarians say it's an unwarranted move by the government to collect private information about citizens.

Senate President Rick Halford said he introduced Senate Bill 99 because many of those who commit violent crimes have prior convictions as burglars. Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, is sponsoring a similar measure in the House.

''Studies have shown that expanding the DNA registry would significantly increase the state's chances of catching violent criminals,'' Halford, R-Chugiak, said. Samples are currently taken only from those who commit felony crimes against a person, such as sexual and other assaults.

Del Smith, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said the department wanted to include burglars when the state DNA registry legislation initially passed in 1995. The department tried again unsuccessfully to include burglars in the registry through a bill introduced by the governor last year, he said.

Smith believes the move is justified based on data from other states. In Florida 52 percent of the people convicted of a violent crime had previous burglary convictions, and in Virginia 44 percent of violent criminals had burglary records, he said.

In Alaska the correlation wasn't as strong -- Smith recalled it being about 15 percent -- but he said the state's system might not have been capturing data accurately.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, opposes the bill.

Collecting DNA is more troubling than collecting fingerprints, Rudinger said, because DNA can reveal genetic secrets of a criminal's close family members, as well as himself. She worries such information could be used for purposes other than solving crimes, such as identifying whether a person should be hired or promoted or would be a good insurance risk. She calls this ''function creep.''

''We've seen this is other areas, most notably Social Security numbers,'' Rudinger said. The numbers the government assigned people for a national retirement program have now become used as identifiers for many other purposes, she said.

''Once the government has this information about you, they keep finding neat new ways to use it,'' Rudinger said.

But Smith said that wouldn't be allowed under the bill, and anyone misusing the data could be prosecuted.

''The law specifically says what we can use it for and that's all we're going to use it for,'' Smith said.

''What we're talking about are people who are convicted -- and I want to stress that -- convicted of a felony crime,'' Smith said. ''We're not trying to collect DNA willy-nilly.''

Rudinger argues the information would not aid in solving subsequent burglaries because DNA samples are seldom left behind in burglaries. She doesn't believe a strong enough link exists in Alaska between burglaries and later violent crimes to justify taking the samples from burglars.

Halford's bill, which has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, still must move through the Senate Finance Committee before reaching the floor. Murkowski's bill hasn't had a hearing yet.

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