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Saliva-swab bill requirement sparks ACLU questions about DNA privacy

Beginning July 1, individuals arrested for a felony offense will not only have to give a fingerprint, but also a saliva DNA sample during the intake process.

This new step is one of the last  of  the requirements of Senate Bill 77, which was signed into law last year by former Gov. Ted Strickland. Other provisions of this bill took effect last year, including recording suspect interviews and maintaining biological evidence.

The DNA sample will be taken by swabbing the inside of the arrestee’s mouth. The swab will be sent to the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and added into a database for future use, according to the bill.

Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents and former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro fought to include DNA sampling in the bill and said the testing will help solve crimes faster.

“It will save lives. You pick up John Doe on a felony. Before he gets bond set, you get a match on another crime scene, and you’re able to hold him,” Petro said.

However, this view was not shared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

ACLU of Ohio members have many concerns over this provision of the bill despite being in favor of many of the other provisions, said Mike Brickner, spokesman for the organization. One concern is the violation of rights to the individuals arrested, he added.

“These people could be arrested for a felony, then be proven innocent,” Brickner said. “Having that information is a gross violation of a person’s right to privacy as well as search and seizure.”

Brickner also voiced the organization’s unease on the toll DNA sampling will have on law enforcement, adding BCI was already “extremely behind on the number of samples being tested.”

“By adding samples from people arrested for felonies, the number of samples will at least double,” Brickner said. “This will no doubt slow down the investigation process.”

Though sampling will not begin until July, Brickner said the ACLU would watch how the samples are being stored and who can access them.

“This type of information could be hacked, leaked or seen by people who have no business looking,” Brickner said. “We need to protect people’s biological information.”

Current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced last week that an Athens BCI office will be opened by August 1 to better serve the  Southeastern Ohio area.


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