The Trump administration will push America closer to becoming a "complete surveillance state" if it is allowed to move forward with a plan to collect and store the biometric data of migrants detained in the U.S., a legal expert specializing in forensic science has warned.
Under the proposed rule change, which was unveiled by the Justice Department on Monday, the Department of Homeland Security would be authorized and directed to "collect DNA samples from the non-United States persons it detains."
The data would then be inputted into the U.S.' national DNA database, CODIS, which is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
While Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen hailed the proposal as a way to "help to save lives and bring criminals to justice," Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez, the special forensic science counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, warned that the effort could not only be a violation of migrants' rights, but could also have broader implications for the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.
"What we're looking at right now is a choice as a society: Do we want to live in a surveillance state matching what's going on in China right now or do we want to live in the country we all thought we were living in?" Vasquez said in an interview with Newsweek.
By allowing the government to target some of the "most marginalized people" on U.S. soil, Vasquez said, Americans could be opening up the "possibility down the road of us all being subjected to DNA testing to be included in the ever-growing systems of mass surveillance."
"It is another step in a consistent trend we've been seeing for some time reflecting the road were on, which is effectively going to being a complete surveillance state," Vasquez said. "That should be concerning for all of us."
Yet, the legal expert said that because the plan targets non-U.S. citizens, Americans may not see the forest for the trees until it's too late.
"I think what we've seen over the course of the expansion of the criminal databases is that we are heavily prone as a society to, when it's not us, be less concerned," she said. "I think the point where people will be concerned is when collection starts to creep into individual Americans' doors. That hasn't happened yet."
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union also sought to raise alarm following reports of the Trump administration's plan.
"Forced DNA collection raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns and lacks justification, especially when DHS is already using less intrusive identification methods like fingerprinting," Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement.
"Our DNA not only reveals deeply personal information about us, but also information about our relatives. This means the administration's racist immigration policies will also implicate the rights of family members in other countries and family members here, including American citizens," she warned.
"This kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance, which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy."