Info Sought on FBI’s Rapid DNA Database

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Department of Justice of Wednesday for information on its plans to use new technologies to house quickly analyzed DNA profiles in a national database.
     The Foundation says the Department of Justice’s refusal to provide records on the FBI’s efforts to integrate DNA profiles generated by rapid DNA analysis into a national database raises major privacy concerns.
     “EFF has long been concerned about the privacy risks associated with collecting, testing, storing and sharing of genetic data,” EFF attorney Jennifer Lynch said in a statement. “The use of Rapid DNA stands to vastly increase the collection of DNA, because it makes it much easier for the police to get it from anyone they want, whenever they want.”
     The EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Oct. 28, 2014, asking for records on FBI use of Rapid DNA analysis technology and its plans to store quickly analyzed DNA data on the government’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
     “Incredibly, the FBI told us it found no records responsive to our requests,” Lynch said. “Even though it has been funding and working with manufacturers to develop the technology, and has a whole webpage devoted to the subject, the FBI said it couldn’t [locate] a single document about this major effort to use Rapid DNA.”
     The EFF says the FBI has sent agents to discuss DNA-related projects at biometric conferences that are open to the public and discussed its Rapid DNA program with Congress on several, yet claims to have no documents on the issue.
     Rapid DNA analyzers can be used by nonscientists outside a lab to extract a DNA profile from a sample in 90 minutes or less, according to the complaint.
     While some police departments are already using the technology, the FBI cannot add DNA profiles generated outside of an accredited laboratory to the national database under current federal laws, according to the EFF.
     EFF says Rapid DNA analyzer manufacturers and the FBI have been lobbying Congress to change those laws so that genetic profiles analyzed outside of official labs can be added to the national database.
     Virginia was the first state to require DNA collection from all convicted felons and to create a DNA databank in 1990. By 2001, all 50 states required DNA collection from convicted sex offenders, according to the complaint.
     Today, 48 states require DNA collection for people convicted of felonies, and 42 states require DNA samples be taken for at least some misdemeanor convictions, the complaint states.
     The 17-page complaint cites a decision by a Maryland appeals court last year in Raynor v. State, upholding warrantless DNA collection from a man who was not arrested. Raynor had agreed to come to a police station to answer questions in a rape case, and after refusing to provide a DNA sample, police swabbed and analyzed skin cells he left behind on a chair.
     The EFF asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision, but the high court declined to hear the case in March.
     In its complaint, EFF also points to warnings from prominent judicial figures on the threat DNA collection and retention poses to civil liberties, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Maryland v. King.
     “Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, for whatever reason,” Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion, cited in the EFF complaint.
     The EFF wants to see the records, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
     The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.