Documents just released by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to one of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act requests show that DHS is considering collecting DNA from kids ages 14 and up—and is exploring expanding its regulations to allow collection from kids younger than that.
The proposal appears to be working its way through DHS in the wake of regulations from the Department of Justice that require all federal agencies—including DHS and its components such as ICE—to collect DNA from individuals arrested for federal crimes as well as “from non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States,” whether or not they have been involved in criminal activity. While the law specifically exempts a few classes of “aliens,” the documents we received show DHS may start DNA collection from anyone it fingerprints. Currently, that’s any child over 14 who’s detained, but we also found records that show ICE could lower that age even more.
DHS estimates that as many as 1 million people who are subject to administrative detention or arrest annually could now be subject to DNA collection. But it’s important to note that many of these people are not involved in criminal activity. Collecting DNA from anyone detained by the government for any number of non-criminal reasons—especially juveniles—seems to be yet another step on the slippery slope to collecting DNA from everyone in the United States, no matter their status. . . .
DHS also appears to recognize the political costs of collecting DNA from people outside the criminal justice system. In a March 22, 2010 letter from DHS Secretary Napolitano to Attorney General Holder, Napolitano sought an exemption to DNA collection from juveniles under 18. Hidden text within one of the documents1 recognizes that collecting DNA from juveniles could increase “ICE’s exposure to criticism” and notes:
[t]here is a high likelihood that ICE would face litigation and other opposition from community and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) if ICE were to sample all juvenile detainees.
Further, it appears DHS is trying to avoid publicizing the roll out. Hidden text on another page of the documents notes that “OCR and OPA [ICE's Office of Congressional Relations and Office of Public Affairs] intend to respond to inquiries, rather than making announcements of the DNA sampling pilot program.”