Privacy Law

Rapid DNA devices provide results in less than two hours; how are they being used?

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Law enforcement and immigration officials are showing interest in new microwave-sized devices that test DNA and return results in less than two hours.

Some police departments are using rapid DNA results to search state databases to solve crimes, the New Republic reports in a story co-published with Al Jazeera America. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is planning a pilot program in which the devices will be used by immigration officers to verify kinship between parents and children who are traveling.

Currently police officers cannot connect the results of rapid DNA tests with the national FBI database known as CODIS. Only results from accredited laboratories can be used. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced a bill to allow rapid DNA connections.

In testimony before a Senate Committee in December, FBI director James Comey explained law enforcement’s interest in the CODIS connection. The bill would “allow us, in 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,” he said.

Some civil-liberties and immigration advocates are concerned, however. Civil-liberties advocates fear such tests could reveal health and other information, and could be used to construct a nationwide DNA index. Some immigration advocates say rapid DNA could reveal whether a child was conceived due to infidelity or rape, and could exclude families with children who are not biologically related.

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