New York City’s DNA database has grown by nearly 29 percent over the last two years, and now has 82,473 genetic profiles, becoming a potentially potent tool for law enforcement but one that operates with little if any oversight, the New York Times reports. The New York Police Department has taken DNA samples from people convicted of crimes, as well as from people who are only arrested or questioned. The practice has exposed the Police Department to scrutiny over how the genetic material is collected and whether privacy rights are being violated. A growing number of law enforcement agencies, including police departments in Connecticut, California, and Maryland have built genetic databases that operate by their own rules.
According to a 2013 survey, 30 states and the federal government permitted the analysis of DNA samples collected from individuals who are arrested or charged, but not convicted, of certain crimes. New York State law requires a conviction before someone’s DNA can be included in the state-operated DNA databank. Databases built by local authorities are not subject to the state rules. The rapidly expanding DNA database in New York is a striking example of the Police Department’s ability to adopt advancing technology with little scrutiny. Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said officers were engaging in legally permitted tactics. “We are not indiscriminately collecting DNA,” he said. “If we did, it would be a database of millions and millions.” Police officials say the database has been used to capture scores of violent criminals and to exonerate the wrongly accused. “We use DNA as a truth-finding mechanism,” Deputy Chief Emanuel Katranakis said. “It’s unbiased.” About 31,400 of the DNA profiles in the database came from people who were arrested or merely questioned in connection with a crime, but may not have been convicted, says the Legal Aid Society.