DNA’s Dark Side and the GOP Embrace of Clean Urine

I. The Dark Side of DNA

Currently, 28 states and federal law enforcement collect DNA upon arrest — when a person is still presumed to be innocent. In 2011, Maryland police collected 10,666 DNA samples and only 19 led to an arrest. Only 9 of the 28 states that collect data from arrestees expunge the samples automatically if the person is not convicted. [1]

Because African-Americans are significantly overrepresented in CODIS, it is possible to use the database to identify up to 17 percent of the country’s entire African-American population, researchers in the Duke University Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy found in 2011. In a racially biased system, DNA collection on arrest creates a racial dragnet.

This racially biased system is not unique to the United States, as by 2008, Britain’s National Database stored DNA data from 27 percent of the country’s black population and from 77 percent of young black males. [2]

II. The GOP’s Embrace of Clean Urine

GOP lawmakers are enthusiastically embracing the idea of making clean urine a condition of receiving public benefits. Since 2011, seven states have passed laws mandating drug tests for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants and recipients. Employers are even getting into the act, as by 2006, 84 percent of American employers were reporting that they drug-tested their workers. [3]

The GOP lawmakers are building on the hero of many of them, Ronald Reagan, who signed into law the Drug Free Workplace Act, which mandated urine tests for every employee working for a federal grantee and even for those working for some contractors.


[1] Jason Silverstein, “The Dark Side of DNA,” The Nation, April 15, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Isabel MacDonald, “The GOP’s Drug Test Dragnet,” The Nation, April 22, 2013.


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