Rapid DNA: Coming Soon to a Police Department or Immigration Office Near You
Monday, January 7, 2013
In the amount of time it takes to get lunch, the government can now collect your DNA and extract a profile that identifies you and your family members.
Rapid DNA Analyzers—machines with the ability to process DNA in 90 minutes or less—are an operational reality and are being marketed to the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies around the country. These machines, each about the size of a laser printer, are designed to be used in the field by non-scientists, and—if you believe the hype from manufacturers like IntegenX and NetBio—will soon “revolutionize the use of DNA by making it a routine identification and investigational tool.”
From documents we received recently from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and DHS’s Science & Technology division, we’ve learned that the two agencies are working with outside venders NetBio, Lockheed Martin and IntegenX and have “earmarked substantial funds” to develop a Rapid DNA analyzer that can verify familial relationships for refugee and asylum applications.
In the refugee context—where people are often stranded in camps far from their homes with little access to the documentation needed to prove they should be granted asylum in the US—DNA identification could be useful for both the federal government and the asylum seeker.
However, DNA samples contain such sensitive, private and personal information that their indefinite storage and unlimited sharing create privacy risks far worse than other types of data.