Genetic information is considered critical to evidence for police. In a recent story, the FBI is said to be building a massive, portable DNA database that can be used anywhere, anytime to “quick check” anybody or piece of evidence:
Though DNA has revolutionized modern crime fighting, the clues it may hold aren’t revealed quickly. Samples of saliva, or skin, or semen are sent to a crime lab by car (or mail), and then chemists get to work. Detectives are accustomed to waiting days or weeks, or more, for the results. Some labs are so backed up, they only take the most serious crimes. Some samples never get tested.
But a portable machine about the size of a large desktop printer is changing that. A “Rapid DNA” machine can take a swab of DNA, analyze it and produce a profile of 20 specific loci on the DNA strand in less than two hours. Some local police departments and prosecutors have been using Rapid DNA machines for about five years to solve crimes.
In Orange County, California, recently, police investigating a stabbing found a trail of blood from the suspect. The Rapid DNA machine was able to produce a profile that matched someone already in the Orange County database, but who was “not on the radar” of investigators, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contini said. He was arrested. “The speed with which you can give law enforcement these clues is critical,” Contini said. “When you are out on these suspects fast, they confess. We’ve had tremendous success.”
And last month, one of the two manufacturers of Rapid DNA machines, ANDE of Waltham, Massachusetts, shipped six of the machines to California for use in trying to identify victims of the massive wildfires there, using DNA from family members to create a temporary searchable database.
However, the machines currently aren’t connected to CODIS, the FBI’s combined national DNA database. So the FBI is launching a Rapid DNA initiative to place the machines in police and sheriffs’ booking stations around the country, hoping to enable law enforcement to check arrestees against the CODIS database and, when a match is made to DNA from an unsolved crime, capture the person before they’re released.
In testifying to Congress about the Rapid DNA network in 2015, then-FBI Director James Comey said the technology “would help us change the world in a very, very exciting way.” Comey said it would allow “booking stations around the country, if someone’s arrested, to know instantly — or near instantly — whether that person is the rapist who’s been on the loose in a particular community before they’re released on bail and get away or to clear somebody, to show that they’re not the person.”
Thirty states and the federal government currently allow DNA to be taken at the time of arrest. Sixteen states allow it to be analyzed immediately, and in the other 14 states, DNA may be taken at arrest but not analyzed until after arraignment on charges. The FBI expects that a Rapid DNA network will not only enable more identifications of crime suspects, but also drastically reduce the time investigators spend waiting for DNA results, and lessen the burden on crime labs.
Congress approved legislation authorizing the Rapid DNA network last year, and the FBI plans to slowly roll it out beginning next year. “Our goal in 2019,” said Thomas Callaghan, chief biometric scientist for the FBI Laboratory, “is to be able to have a pilot project done where we actually develop a DNA profile in a booking station, with no human review, and have it electronically enrolled and searched in the national database. We have to ensure that the quality that’s done in a lab can be done in a booking station,” which are often jails where fingerprints and mugshots are usually taken.
The FBI program will not allow the submission of unknown crime scene from the Rapid DNA machines to the CODIS database. “The machines were initially developed,” Callaghan said, “for large amounts of DNA from a single person, soon after it’s collected.” Crime scene DNA could have a mixture of DNA from different sources, or be contaminated by its surroundings, and the machines have not proved “robust enough to handle crime scene samples,” Callaghan said, so the Rapid DNA submissions to CODIS may only come from known individuals.
Also, in order to facilitate a quick response, initial submissions from Rapid DNA machines will only be checked against a “DNA Index of Special Concern,” which includes unknown profiles from unsolved homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping and terrorism cases, the FBI said. The Rapid DNA submission will be checked against the entire CODIS database during a subsequent run of all DNA submissions from around the country, which is done once each day.
Privacy and technology advocates are leery of where Rapid DNA could lead, particularly because, as Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation observed, “there’s no agency that’s controlling the rollout of this technology.” The FBI acknowledged that anyone can buy a Rapid DNA machine, and police departments and prosecutors in Palm Bay, Florida; Cumberland County, Pennsylvania; Richland County, South Carolina; Tucson, Arizona; Orange County and the Utah attorney general’s office are now using them, mostly to compare samples from crime scenes with known suspects, or simply to speed up the DNA processing. Orange County has its own database of 180,000 prior arrestees that it can use to compare with unknown samples. The New York City medical examiner’s office recently purchased one to try to identify bodies who have come to the morgue without identification.
Lynch noted that people who aren’t trained in crime scene evidence collection could submit contaminated samples, and DNA has been shown to transfer from innocent people into crime scenes. In 2013, a San Jose, California, man was charged with, and then exonerated of, murder when it was found that paramedics who had taken him to a hospital had then unknowingly carried his DNA into their next run, the murder scene.
But the courts have approved the taking of DNA from arrestees and analyzing it, with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 endorsing Maryland’s DNA practice as “like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Lynch noted that “we learn more and more every day about DNA, and what can be determined from a DNA profile…I wonder if the Supreme Court would look at this differently now, now that we know how much information that DNA can tell us.”
The Rapid DNA machines are made by ANDE, which produces the ANDE 6C model, and IntegenX of Pleasanton, Callfornia, which developed the RapidHIT System. So far only the ANDE 6C has been approved for the FBI’s Rapid DNA program. ANDE is not yet selling the machines to law enforcement agencies, instead selling only the disposable chips that facilitate each test, said Annette Mattern, the chief communications officer for ANDE. The company wants the price per DNA test to be below $200, which law enforcement officials said is much cheaper than the current cost of full lab tests.
Mattern said that “the people concerned about privacy are concerned about genetic profiles. That’s not what we do. When you look at the profile, it doesn’t tell us what you look like, or who your grandmother is. You can’t tell anything except that that is a match to another one. We believe it is as invasive as taking fingerprints.”
Mattern also said the chance for a sample being contaminated is less with a Rapid DNA machine because so many fewer steps, and fewer people, are involved. The sample doesn’t need to be transported to a lab and handled by various people there, the process is complete once a vial is entered into a Rapid DNA machine.
The Utah attorney general’s office has two ANDE 6C machines, and “we’re extremely excited with the results we’ve gotten,” said Nate Mutter, the office’s assistant chief of investigations. He said many of the cases brought to him by counties around the state are gun cases, where they are trying to match DNA on a discarded gun with a known suspect. A burglar in Cache County, Utah, who left DNA on a soda can on Sept. 19 was identified, arrested and convicted by Oct. 17 — about the same amount of time a conventional DNA test alone would have taken.
“We’re not fishing for an unknown here,” Mutter said. “This is an investigative tool to make the link between suspects and items of evidence. Just because we can’t load the information into CODIS doesn’t mean the technology can’t be used to assist us.” He noted the portability of the machines was an added bonus. “You can bring it anywhere, and it still gives you lab quality results,” Mutter said.
Lynch said if the Rapid DNA machines “haven’t been validated for DNA mixtures, they certainly shouldn’t be used for that purpose,” and that items such as guns and knives are good candidates to have more than one person’s DNA on them.
Contini, the Orange County prosecutor, said Rapid DNA could have long-term impacts on crimes such as burglary and larceny, which tend to have serial offenders. “You take a recidivist off the street early,” she said, “you’re not just solving crime, you’re preventing crime. And you’re benefiting public safety big time.” (source, source)
In November 2018, it was confirmed that the government was using public DNA databases through major companies to identify and apprehend criminals.
If one has watched television, there has been a tremendous push to give “DNA test kits” as a Christmas gift.
The concept of knowing something about one’s family legacy and past is good. However, the recent push should be looked at with concern because of this confirmation about the use of public databases.
It does not matter about “privacy” or anything that a company says, because American business history confirms that “privacy” is a wholly subjective matter that can be easily defined out of existence by how a company defines “privacy” per their lawyers. When the government is involved then nothing matters because especially in recent times, there is a flagrant patter of ignoring or even lying about laws in order to justify a “conviction,” which speaks to the state of the nation. Once somebody submits his DNA to one of these databases, nobody knows where else it goes or who else has access to it, or if it will be sold like personal information regularly is by businesses such as credit card companies, Facebook, and Twitter.
What is to say that one’s genetic information is not being sold?
Would you want your personal DNA for sale?
The ultimate purpose of it would have nothing to do with “helping” people, because a history of corporate behavior proves that to be a lie. It will be used in the most benevolent case to sell the individual something based on it. Otherwise, it will be used to deny him a product or a service using his DNA as a justification, or to accuse him of a crime should the government desire, for whatever reason, to prosecute him for something.
Biotechnology has been a growing trend, but with the push for “genetic editing” and the integration of computers into genetics and biology, this will be not only a major trend for the future, but something to watch for as a matter of personal concern. What is to say that such technologies could not be used to forge “genetic evidence” at some point, using an individual’s genetic information on file, in order to accuse him of a crime not because he committed a crime, but because he said something “socially inappropriate” and it is a convenient way of shutting him down? This is already a grave concern with “deep fake” videos, that are already threatening the viability of video evidence as a long-term means of evidence, and is something that the government said was making the development of a technological priority so much that export controls have been placed on it as of November 2018. If this was to be combined with genetic manipulation, then nobody is safe anywhere because all that would be necessary is for is somebody to manufacture the evidence to convict somebody of a fake crime.
The future, far from looking like the 1950’s tales of star travel, galaxies, and aliens so promoted to the public in science fiction bears a stronger semblance to Orwell’s 1984 or the world of Huxley’s Brave New World.