NYPD Gave A 12-Year-Old Boy A Soda And Tested It For DNA. His Parents Had To Petition Court To Get It Off The DNA Database

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Written by Ann Brown

The NYPD gave a 12-year-old boy a soda and tested the straw he used for DNA without his parents’ consent. His parents had to petition the court to get it taken off the DNA database.

Many of the 82,473 people in the NYC database have no idea they are even on it. 

While New York City detectives were questioning a boy who was facing a felony charge in 2018, they offered him a McDonald’s soda. After the boy left, the detectives took the straw he had used and tested it for his DNA.

“Although it did not match evidence found at a crime scene, his DNA was entered into the city’s genetic database. To have it removed, the child’s family had to petition a court and file an appeal, a process that took more than a year. The boy was 12,” The New York Times reported.

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Over the last two years, the city’s DNA database has increased by almost 29 percent. These DNA samples have been taken by the NYPD from not only people convicted of crimes but also from people who are only arrested or sometimes only questioned. The practice, says civil liberties lawyers, may violate citizens’ privacy rights.

The NYC isn’t the only law enforcement agency that seems to make up its own rules in collecting genetic material.

“A growing number of law enforcement agencies throughout the country — including police departments in Connecticut, California and Maryland — have amassed genetic databases that operate by their own rules, outside of state and federal guidelines, which tend to be far more strict,” the NYT reported.

Under New York State law, a conviction must have taken place before someone’s DNA can be included in the state-operated DNA databank. However, NYC and other local authorities are not subject to the state rules.

“We are not indiscriminately collecting DNA,” NYC Police Department’s chief of detectives, Dermot F. Shea, said, “If we did, it would be a database of millions and millions.”

Only half of the samples in the NYC database have been collected from crime scenes, other DNA samples have been taken from cigarettes, coffee cups, water bottles, and other objects touched by people during interviews, even those who have never arrested or the charges are later dismissed.

“One of those was the 12-year-old whose DNA was collected from a straw he used while talking to the police in March 2018. The felony charge against him was eventually dropped, but his DNA remained in the database for more than a year, his lawyer, Christine Bella, said,” the NYT reported.

According to civil liberties lawyers, the methods currently being used to add to the database may violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” a fundamental constitutional principle. 

“It’s essentially saying, ‘Give us your entire genome, even though we don’t have any reason to believe you have committed a crime,’” said Erin E. Murphy, a New York University law professor who has written about DNA databases and DNA profiling.

For their side, law enforcement says the more DNA collected could actually help people who have been wrongly convicted

“In 2014, the database also helped Brooklyn prosecutors convict another accused rapist, Avery Bovell. Two years after the attack, Bovell was arrested and questioned in connection with a commercial burglary. The police obtained a sample of his DNA from an object he touched, and it matched the DNA of one of two men the victim said had raped her. In June, Bovell pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual act,” the NYT reported.

“Without having that resource, we would never have been able to identify one of the attackers in that case,” said Rachel Singer, the chief of the forensic science unit in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

Still, some say unapproved DNA collection is just part of how the government is encroaching on personal privacy. 

“Americans’ personal privacy is being crushed by the rise of a four-headed corporate-state surveillance system.  The four ‘heads’ are: federal government agencies; state and local law enforcement entities; telecoms, websites and Internet ‘apps’ companies; and private data aggregators (sometimes referred to as commercial data warehouses),” Salon reported.

Among the ways privacy is being “invaded,” are:  

–Federal Surveillance with such agencies as the National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense, the FBI,  and the IRS collecting data on Americans in the wake of 9/11.

–State and Local Law Enforcement. More than 1.3 million federal, state and local law enforcement data requests were made to cell phone companies for personal records in 2011 alone.  

–Telecom, Websites and Internet “Apps” Companies. “Rep. Markey disclosure revealed a lucrative scheme involving the security state outsourcing data gathering to ten major telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.  These companies made millions of dollars supplying law enforcement agencies with personal telecom information,” Salon reported.

–Private Data Aggregators. There are two types of private sector tracking. One is from companies that facilitate commercial transactions, such as Visa or PayPal.  A second is from ad agencies (such as Google) that capture personal data through “click-throughs” and “cookies.”