The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations for failing to provide documents related to the Rapid DNA system. The FBI said they found no responsive records to Freedom of Information Act requests made by the EFF. 

Rapid DNA analyzers are machines designed to allow processing of a DNA sample in as little as 50 minutes. The machines are portable and roughly about the same size as a laser printer. This means that law enforcement using Rapid DNA can collect a DNA sample from a suspect, and match the profile against a database without the help of a scientist in an accredited lab. The EFF believes this will lead to further invasions of privacy.

According to the FBI’s fact sheet, the first The FBI Rapid DNA Program Office was established “in 2010 to direct the development and integration of Rapid DNA technology for use by law enforcement. The Program Office works with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institute of Justice, and other federal agencies.”

The EFF is concerned that Rapid DNA is simply another aspect of the growing use of biometrics. Biometrics is defined as the “measuring and analysis of such physical attributes as facial features and voice or retinal scans.”

“EFF has long been concerned about the privacy risks associated with collecting, testing, storing and sharing of genetic data. The use of Rapid DNA stands to vastly increase the collection of DNA, because it makes it much easier for the police to get it from anyone they want, whenever they want. The public has a right to know how this will be carried out and how the FBI will protect peoples’ privacy,” said Jennifer Lynch, EFF senior staff attorney.

The EFF first filed FOIA requests with the FBI in 2012. The group says the FBI has briefed Congress and discussed the plans for implementation of a nation-wide DNA collection system but refuses to disclose the details of these plans to the public.

 “Incredibly, the FBI told us it found no records responsive to our requests. Even though it has been funding and working with manufacturers to develop the technology, and has a whole webpage devoted to the subject, the FBI said it couldn’t local a single document about this major effort to use Rapid DNA,” said Lynch.

In March it was reported that the Tuscon PD in Arizona would begin using Rapid DNA, and the San Diego PD in California recently responded to the NY Times for a report on the departments use of the system. The Rapid DNA system recently made international news as police in the UK uploaded the first Rapid DNA results to the national DNA database.The EFF has also documented the use of Rapid DNA by immigration officials. In 2013 EFF wrote:

“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 for as little as $100.”

Still, the FBI must wait until rules are put in place and Congress changes DNA laws before the full implementation of the system can begin.

“The FBI shouldn’t be allowed to hide its plans to develop a technology that could have a huge impact on genetic privacy,” Lynch said. “We are asking a court to order DOJ to turn over documents we requested so we and the communities where Rapid DNA is being deployed can review the program.”

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