Inside The NYPD's Out-Of-Control DNA Collection Practices

The NYPD is going to great lengths to collect, and permanently store DNA from everyone they can - guilty or innocent, according to the NY Daily News.  

Whether it be going door to door, bribing people with cigarettes, or simply demanding cheek swabs from random passers by, the NYPD has been aggressively compiling an Orwellian crime-fighting DNA database which had over 64,000 profiles as of 2017. 

Take as an extreme example the police investigation of the Howard Beach jogger case. Before they identified a suspect, the NYPD collected well over 500 DNA profiles from men in the East New York area. Imagine police knocking on doors, in uniform, with a cheek swab in hand, asking residents to prove they didn’t kill the jogger in the nearby park.

They were willing to do it in East New York. Do you think this would happen on Park Ave.? In Park Slope? Not likely.

But things get worse from there. For those people excluded from the jogger case, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the city’s crime lab, permanently keeps those profiles in their databank and routinely compares profiles to all city crimes. -NY Daily News

The Chief Medical Examiner's office, meanwhile, has justified the supercharged data collection on ambiguous city and state laws - instead preferring to invent their own rules governing how they use someone's DNA. 

In short - anyone who has given their DNA to the NYPD will be routinely compared to DNA samples from every rape, murder and any other violent crime run through the system. 

But wait, you might say - why worry if you've done nothing wrong? 

Because, as the Daily News notes, "DNA has unparalleled power to wrongly accuse. Genetic testing can now reveal a profile based on a few cells, and we shed hundreds of thousands of cells a day. Your DNA can show up in places you’ve never been."

For example, the DNA of Lukis Anderson was discovered under the fingernails of a murdered billionaire - which was transferred to the dead man by paramedics that night who had treated both men. Anderson was facing the death penalty before his 2013 exoneration. 

You might also take a cue from the police themselves. Under their labor contract with the city, rank-and-file officers don’t give the lab their DNA, which means the lab can’t easily rule out possible crime-scene contamination. This means that the officers knocking on doors ask people to volunteer to do what they won’t.

Basic privacy is another genuine worry. We see every day how our personal information, once set loose upon the internet, can never be recaptured. The past few years have heralded incredible expansions of the uses of DNA. Now imagine what will be possible in 30 years.

And just when you thought private DNA testing companies were safe (granted, ZH readers generally know better) - FamilyTreeDNA, one of the pioneers of the growing market for "at home", consumer genetic testing, confirmed a report from BuzzFeed that it has quietly granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation access to its vast trove of nearly 2 million genetic profiles.

Having been caught abusing client privacy, the company decided to make the best of it and despite the (coming) outrage over privacy abuse, Family Tree officials touted their work with the FBI to BuzzFeed.

Without realizing it [Family Tree DNA founder and CEO Bennett Greenspan] had inadvertently created a platform that, nearly two decades later, would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever,” the company said in a statement.

What a brave new world!