California Luddite Legislators Disrespect Crime Victims

Back in 1980, an assailant broke into an Orange County home, bound University of California, Irvine, medical student Keith Harrington, 24, and his wife Patti, then raped the woman before beating the couple to death. Police had no suspects, and Keith’s brother Bruce Harrington became convinced that the only way to solve the crime was through DNA. In 2002, when DNA was proving effective in other states, Harrington testified before the state Assembly and the Senate public safety committees. His pleas fell on deaf ears. “All I see and hear from Senator Burton, his staff and his cronies,” Harrington said, “is a buzz saw of opposition and obfuscation, focused more on the rights of prisoners than on the rights of their victims.”

Harrington backed Proposition 69, which authorized DNA testing of felons. The measure drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, but it passed in 2004. On April 2, 2018, the California Supreme Court upheld DNA testing of those arrested or charged with a felony. On April 25, 2018, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that DNA comparisons led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, suspected of being the Golden State Killer who had murdered Keith Harrington and many others. Bruce Harrington duly recalled the opposition to his “Keep California Safe” DNA proposition, telling Sen. Burton and his committee, “You were wrong.”

As Bruce Harrington also noted, DNA can help convict the guilty and protect the innocent. The same double edge is true of face recognition technology, but Assembly Bill 1215, proposed by San Francisco Democrat Phil Ting, opposes the technology as a “violation of recognized constitutional rights,” the same language used to opposed DNA testing. The ACLU also opposes the technology, favored by law enforcement.

“This technology should not be rejected by the state or any other governmental agency without careful consideration of the adverse impacts that decision may have on public safety,” David Livingston of the California State Sheriff’s Association told the Sacramento Bee. That has not deterred promoters of AB 1215, and in May San Francisco became the first city to ban facial recognition technology. Californians could be forgiven for seeing these state and city officials as anti-technology Luddites with little if any regard for victims of violent crime.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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