NYPD accused of violating best practices and law with DNA and facial biometrics databases

NYPD accused of violating best practices and law with DNA and facial biometrics databases

The NYPD is building a biometric DNA database without informing people of their inclusion, and is allegedly adding mugshots which are not legally eligible to its facial recognition database, reports indicate. The Local DNA Index System currently holds the genetic information of some 82,473 thousand people, writes The New York Times, most likely unaware that their data was at some point collected and stored.

OneZero, meanwhile, reports that a mugshot which should have been sealed when the individual was cleared of wrongdoing for the incident leading to its collection has been used with the NYPD’s facial recognition system.

The revelation comes on the heels of a process which quickly identified a suspect in a bomb scare, and was praised by Idemia for following best practices to ensure biometric accuracy and mitigate bias.

Critics warn that the NYPD is not only violating privacy rights and civil liberties, but it is also not complying with a state law passed in 1976. The law says that when an investigation “is terminated in a person’s favor or results in a non-criminal violation,” all records are to be “sealed” and genetic material and photos destroyed to prevent further police persecution. Yet sealed mugshots still end up in the facial recognition database. The NYPD is now being sued by public advocacy group Bronx Defenders for violating state law by retaining sealed arrest records.

“When records are sealed, all the details of the case, including a person’s mug shot, are off-limits for routine law enforcement purposes,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Instead of destroying these records as required, the NYPD unlawfully added these sealed records to its unreliable and biased facial recognition database.”

According to the Times, police officers have collected and stored DNA from all people interviewed, arrested or convicted, including a 12-year-old boy whose DNA was collected from a straw in a soda.
Deputy Chief Emanuel J. Katranakis told the Times the data collected is “unbiased” and used “as a truth-finding mechanism.”

The Times also reports that the department’s facial recognition database has grown by 29 percent in the past two years.

“We are not indiscriminately collecting DNA,” adds NYPD’s chief of detectives, Dermot F. Shea. “If we did, it would be a database of millions and millions.”

When New York City Council proposed a bill to provide transparency on the use of surveillance technology, the NYPD disputed the initiative.

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