Governor Cuomo's State of the State speech was chock-full of curious incursions into New Yorker's privacy. And we aren't just talking about the whole fingerprinting folks who want food stamps debate. Oh, no. Slipped in there amidst all that gambling talk was also a plan to make New York the first state in the country to collect DNA from anyone convicted of a crime here. And that includes misdemeanors like jumping turnstiles.
Right now the State already collects DNA from those convicted of felonies and a limited number of misdemeanors—Cuomo is proposing that we go all out and just sample everyone (who has committed a crime). And there are some arguments for the idea, including the fact that the existing State database has helped convict more than 2,700 people since it went online in 1996 and has helped clear a not-insignificant 27 wrongfully convicted people. In theory both of those numbers would jump with a larger database to work from. So naturally folks like Manhattan DA Cy Vance are all for it, saying the current database's arbitrary cutoff "doesn't make sense."
"We are missing an important opportunity to prevent needless suffering of crime victims," Cuomo said in his address. "We are also failing to use the most powerful tool we have to exonerate the innocent."
On the other hand, civil liberties activists point out that Cuomo is asking New Yorkers to give up a lot here while chasing the kind of legal results you only see on TV. "New York isn’t 'CSI,' and in the real world DNA is not infallible," New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman points out.
"To have your sample included in the database means you're under surveillance 24/7," Robert Perry, legislative director for the NYCLU, adds. "If your DNA ends up matching DNA at a crime scene, you now become subject to criminal suspicion, but there are plenty of innocent reasons for folks' DNA to turn up at a crime scene."