December 16, 2002
By Tranette Ledford
Samples, once solely used for identifying dead, now can be used in crime investigations
The military’s database of DNA samples from all service members, created to positively identify wartime casualties, has been opened up to law-enforcement agencies for crime investigations.
The new law, a single paragraph in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act signed by President Bush Dec. 2, overrides Pentagon policy that the DNA samples be used almost solely to identify troops killed in combat.
Now, local and state law-enforcement officials investigating felonies and sexual offenses can go to federal judges and thoSe in the military to seek permission to gain access to the military DNA database.
Privacy-rights advocates say that the amendment was rushed into law and fear it will erode troops’ legal protections.
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“My concern is not so much that the bill passed, but that it passed without debate or public scrutiny,” said Augusta, Ga., attorney William Cassara, co-founder of Citizens Against Military Injustice and a retired member of the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
“Our legal system is set up to weigh more heavily on the rights of individuals to maintain their privacy,” Cassara said. “Imagine the outcry if residents of Augusta were told they must all go downtown and submit their DNA and that it could be used by police in future criminal cases. The public wouldn’t allow it.
“But when it’s military members who are required to submit their DNA, suddenly their privacy is up for grabs for anyone to use in an investigation,” he said. “That’s private information, submitted. for the sole purpose of identifying them if they are killed serving their country.”
Cassara, whose law practice is devoted to military legal issues, said the use of DNA in criminal cases is overrated, since most crimes can be solved through good police work.
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