New York City’s Controversial Collection of Genetic Data & NYPD’s Use of The DNA Database
The New York Police Department (NYPD)’s reliance on the city’s DNA database has long been controversial: In just the last two years, the database has grown by close to 30 percent to include more than 80,000 people. It has also been criticized by a number of civil rights advocate activists, elected officials, and criminal defense advocates for government overreach, as it includes a number of both juveniles and adults who have never been convicted of crimes and who are also completely unaware that their DNA has been collected from a cigarette or drink that they left, and then permanently stored. The issue here in New York is especially controversial at the moment due to a murder trial in the spotlight involving NYPD officers allegedly taking DNA samples from more than 350 black men in Brooklyn and Queens in order to find their suspect. According to those who testified, the police department threatened them into handing over their DNA samples.
City Versus State DNA Databases
Under the law, while state run databases can only collect and store DNA from suspects that have already been convicted of a crime, those run on the local level – including New York City’s – are not subject to the same oversight requirements. In order to have your DNA removed from the database, you essentially have no choice but to bring a lawsuit.
It is precisely this issue that gives criminal defense advocates concerns, as there are no statutory regulations concerning information that is collected on citizens; nor any protocols concerning how such information is going to be used. Specifically, there is no guidance as to what materials are collected, how they are collected, what limitations will be applied regarding whose DNA is entered into the database, how long that information will be stored, whether and under what conditions it is destroyed, who it is shared with and has access to it, what happens if there are any violations of the ‘rules,’ etc. There is also no regulation as to what the source of the DNA entries is going to be and whether people who have never even been charged or arrested for a crime are going to have their DNA included. As a result, a number of advocates have argued that you essentially have illegal encroachment by the government on citizen privacy without any legislative or judicial oversight.
There is also a huge concern that police are arbitrarily choosing who is going to be included in the database and relying on deceptive and coercive methods to collect those samples. As a result, you have serious concerns about the potential for racial profiling and police including “the usual suspects” in terms of particular race and class targets. Finally, no rules exist that limit the use of this information for anything other than criminal investigations, which opens it up to significant potential abuse.
There is no question that police should not be able to collect DNA without a warrant until, at a minimum, some laws are passed governing whose DNA is collected and under what circumstances and limitations. The database should also be subject to both legislative and judicial oversight when it comes to developing these protocols; if such a database should even exist at all.
Contact Our New York Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Attorneys
If you have been arrested for and/or charged with a crime, contact our experienced New York criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.