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FBI seeks to add Rapid DNA to biometric database


This week, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a plan to accelerate the collection of DNA profiles for the government’s massive new biometric identification database.

The FBI Laboratory, along with the Bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, have said that they are actively collaborating to develop a streamlined approach towards automating DNA collection processes from qualifying “arrestees” and offenders that are in custody during arrest, booking or conviction.

The goal of the FBI plan is to integrate “Rapid DNA” technology into the the agency’s biometrics-driven Next Generation Identification (NGI) system. Rapid DNA is defined as the use of portable cheek swab DNA machines in the field that can be used by law enforcement officers to initiate expedited DNA analysis. Portable DNA machines are designed to make suspect matches within 90 minutes by police officers in the field, rather than requiring days of processing by technicians in specialized laboratories.

The benefit of Rapid DNA for law enforcement is that an officer can run a test while an “arrestee” is in temporary custody. If there is a database match, then the law enforcement agency can move to place the suspect in immediate custody.

In a 2013 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when police officers make an arrest for a serious offense, supported by probable cause, the capture and analysis of a cheek swab of an arrestee’s DNA is akin to capturing fingerprints or taking photographs. It therefore constitutes a legitimate and reasonable police booking procedure according to the high court. Due to confirmed judicial support for the practice, the FBI has moved to investigate how its can facilitate the integration of Rapid DNA analysis into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index (CODIS) database and NGI systems.

NGI, which debuted recently, aims to expand the federal government’s identification databases beyond its 110 million fingerprint records. As BiometricUpdate.com reported previously, NGI is designed to advance the Bureau’s biometrics identification services, providing an incremental replacement of its current integrated automated fingerprint identification system with a multi-modal biometric database, which includes voice, iris and facial recognition.

The Next Generation Identification program is therefore designed to advance the integration strategies and indexing of additional biometric data that will provide the framework for a future multi-modal system that will facilitate biometric fusion identification techniques. Part of the FBI’s vision will be to extend DNA into the criminal booking environment. As a consequence, the agency will hold a presentation with potential vendors in November that will elaborate its goals and objectives concerning the addition of Rapid DNA capacity to the database.

In statements to Nextgov, FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd said that Rapid DNA “will simply expedite the analysis and submission of lawfully obtained samples to the state and national DNA databases.”

She noted “the FBI will continue to apply cutting-edge technology to combat crime and protect the United States,” but “at the same time, the FBI [will remain] vigilant in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law and protecting privacy rights and civil liberties.”

Though the FBI and Justice Department have constitutional clarity surrounding the use and addition of rapid DNA during the booking procedure, the FBI will still require legislation from Congress to permit Rapid DNA results to added to the FBI’s databases. Current legislation states that CODIS database entries must be processed by an accredited laboratory.

Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Justice Department can also expect heavy criticism from civil liberty groups. Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Nextgov that: “If the cops are stopping more African Americans or Latinos and they have the ability to collect their DNA just at a stop, then it means that the DNA database is going to be even more heavily weighted with DNA from immigrant communities and different ethnic minorities.” The EFF also is critical of the fact that DNA might be able to be tested without a warrant or without a person’s permission.

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