An article by the New York Times asks a moral question: “The New York Police Department’s primary motivation for collecting DNA is to legally identify the correct perpetrator, build the strongest case possible for investigators and our partners in the various prosecutors’ offices, and put an end to the victims and their families.”
The city medical examiner’s office, which manages the database, said it complied with applicable laws and was operated “with the highest scientific standards” set by independent accrediting bodies.
However, civil liberties advocates and privacy groups are questioning the methods used to collect the DNA. The DNA database has come under fire in recent years for tactics used by police to collect DNA samples, often without a person’s consent, lawyers say. The department’s guide to detectives asks detectives to offer a bottle of water, soda, cigarette, gum, or food to a person being questioned in connection with a crime whose DNA is wanted – and recover the object once they are gone.
The civil liberties advocates and privacy groups have argued that progress comes at the expense of communities of color, infringes on the rights of people who have not been convicted of crimes and exposes them to a risk of wrongful conviction if mistakes are made.
“You can change your social security number if you are a victim of identity theft. You can’t change your DNA,” said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “You create this constant threat not for months, not for years, but the rest of your life, that you can be targeted by this information.”
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