Feb 24

State says blood specimens were sent for research that will help identify missing persons.

lawyer-jim-harrington
Lawyer Jim Harrington has sued over lack of consent in DNA policy and may sue over database.

An Austin lawyer threatened to pursue a new federal lawsuit Monday after learning that some newborn blood samples in Texas went to the U.S. military for potential use in a database for law enforcement purposes.

The Department of State Health Services never mentioned the database to Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who settled a lawsuit in December with the state over the indefinite storage of newborn blood without parental consent, or to the American-Statesman, which first reported on the little-known blood storage practice last spring. Harrington said he thought another suit was likely unless the health department destroys the information obtained from the blood samples or obtains consent.

“This is the worst case of bad faith I have dealt with as a lawyer,” he said Monday. Continue reading »

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Apr 23

PRIVACY ADVOCATES SAY THE EMERGING PRACTICE TURNS RELATIVES INTO GENETIC INFORMANTS

He was a church-going father of two, and for more than 30 years Dennis Rader eluded police in the Wichita area, killing 10 people and signing taunting letters with a self-styled monogram: BTK, for Bind Torture Kill. In the end, it was a DNA sample that tied BTK to his crimes. Not his own DNA. But his daughter’s.

Investigators obtained a court order without the daughter’s knowledge for a Pap smear specimen she had given five years earlier at a university medical clinic in Kansas. A DNA profile of the specimen almost perfectly matched the DNA evidence taken from several BTK crime scenes, leading detectives to conclude she was the child of the killer. That allowed police to secure an arrest warrant in February 2005 and end BTK’s murderous career.

The BTK case was an early use of an emerging tool in law enforcement: analyzing the DNA of a suspect’s relatives. In the BTK example, police had a suspect and were looking to tie him to the crime. But now, states are moving to conduct familial searches of criminal databases, looking for close-to-perfect matches with DNA from crime scenes. A partial match with a convicted criminal could implicate a brother or daughter or father of the convict. Such searches, advocates say, constitute a powerful law enforcement tool that, experts say, could increase by 40 percent the number of suspects identified through DNA. Continue reading »

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Apr 17

Policy Adds People Arrested but Not Convicted

The U.S. government will soon begin collecting DNA samples from all citizens arrested in connection with any federal crime and from many immigrants detained by federal authorities, adding genetic identifiers from more than 1 million individuals a year to the swiftly growing federal law enforcement DNA database.

The policy will substantially expand the current practice of routinely collecting DNA samples from only those convicted of federal crimes, and it will build on a growing policy among states to collect DNA from many people who are arrested. Thirteen states do so now and turn their data over to the federal government.

The initiative, to be published as a proposed rule in the Federal Register in coming days, reflects a congressional directive that DNA from arrestees be collected to help catch a range of domestic criminals. But it also requires, for the first time, the collection of DNA samples from people other than U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are detained by U.S. authorities.

Although fingerprints have long been collected for virtually every arrestee, privacy advocates say the new policy expands the DNA database, run by the FBI, beyond its initial aim of storing information on the perpetrators of violent crimes.

They also worry that people could be detained erroneously and swept into the database without cause, and that DNA samples from those who are never convicted of a crime, because of acquittal or a withdrawal of charges, might nonetheless be permanently retained by the FBI.

“Innocent people don’t belong in a so-called criminal database,” said Tania Simoncelli, science adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’re crossing a line.” Continue reading »

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