The FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) database has been discussed here several times, thanks to its "expeditious" blend of criminal and non-criminal data, its postponed-forever Privacy Impact Assessment the agency has been promising since 2008, the limited, four-state rollout of facial recognition software with a 20% error rate, and its peculiar exclusion of DOJ/law enforcement employees from its lifelong criminal database monitoring.
It appears the FBI isn't satisfied with the wealth of biometric information it already has access to. It's grabbed everything external it can possibly get (faces, distinctive marks, fingerprints, civil/criminal records, voice recordings, iris scans [coming soon!]). Now, it's coming for what's inside you.
The FBI is preparing to accelerate the collection of DNA profiles for the government's massive new biometric identification database.
Developers of portable DNA analysis machines have been invited to a Nov. 13 presentation to learn about the bureau's vision for incorporating their technology into the FBI's new database.
So-called rapid DNA systems can draw up a profile in about 90 minutes.
DNA has been an integral part of criminal investigations for a number of years now and there's no question it has played an important role both in securing convictions and exonerating the falsely accused. But what the FBI is proposing is adding input from lab-in-a-box setups that return pass/fail DNA matches in a relative instant.
Rapid DNA analysis can be performed by cops in less than two hours, rather than by technicians at a scientific lab over several days. The benefit for law enforcement is that an officer can run a cheek swab on the spot or while an arrestee is in temporary custody. If there is a database match, they can then move to lock up the suspect immediately.
What used to take days in a secure, sterile lab now can apparently be accomplished in the "field" in a couple of hours. All technological improvements aside, this would appear to be a much less reliable method. Field drug testing kits have been available for years -- which utilize nothing more complex than chemical reactions -- and they've been shown to be far more unreliable
than those utilizing them would have you believe
. The same can most certainly be said about portable or on-site units wholly divorced from the normal constraints of a lab setting.
The government (so far) realizes this. That's why DNA obtained and analyzed by these units aren't included in the national DNA database. Only results from accredited public-sector laboratories are accepted. The companies manufacturing these devices are obviously interested in seeing this law changed. In the meantime, they've pushed for states to create their own DNA databases
The FBI would like to see this changed as well, going so far as to issue a statement that is mostly wishful thinking.
FBI officials say their program does not impact any laws currently governing the operation of CODIS. Rapid DNA techniques in booking stations, “will simply expedite the analysis and submission of lawfully obtained samples to the state and national DNA databases,” [Ann] Todd, the FBI spokeswoman, said.
Except that it would
impact laws governing CODIS… as they are today.
A legislative tweak is needed to allow DNA processed by a portable machine to be entered into the FBI's systems, bureau officials acknowledge.
Again, the FBI places efficiency above everything else. "Tweaking" the law to include portable devices would "expedite" the filling of the FBI's biometric database. Faster is better, even if the analysis method isn't as reliable as that performed by accredited labs. False positives/negatives are just the acceptable collateral damage of "combating crime and protecting the United States."
There's a huge backlog of untested DNA waiting for CODIS-qualified lab analysis. Offloading some of the work to private labs or portable devices sounds
like a great way ease that congestion, but it actually could create more problems. If the government believes that only
its chosen labs are capable of producing solid analysis, fixes like those suggested by three California Congressional reps
would ask law enforcement (including the FBI) to decide which evidence goes the Gold Standard labs and what gets passed along to the lesser, unproven venues.
When presented with this set of options, law enforcement may prioritize cases badly, routing "time-sensitive" evidence through unproven but quicker analysis while sending out anything that can "wait" to the government's labs. Basically, without an across-the-board certification of all
methods (with rigid testing and re-testing to ensure quality) as being equal, there's a good chance collected DNA will be treated just as prejudicially as the suspects themselves. And, if the expansion of CODIS inputs isn't handled with rigorous oversight, the chances of the guilty going free and the innocent being imprisoned increases.