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Police DNA Databases Spreading, Unregulated

More and more local police forces around the country are creating their own databases of DNA from possible suspects – some of which is being collected without the donor's knowledge – and these banks are unregulated and write their own rules, the New York Times reports.

This "trend is trends is only expected to accelerate" now that the US Supreme Court has affirmed the right of law enforcers to swab and store DNA samples from anyone who is arrested, the Times' Joseph Goldstein speculates.

Local databases have more "leeway" from state and federal regulations, and police sometimes have been collecting samples from people who were not convicted or arrested for serious offenses, including from victims of crimes who may not know that their DNA is being stored for future searches, Goldstein notes.

New York City has a database of 11,000 crime suspects, the Orange County, Calif. district attorney's office has 90,000 such entries, for example, which shows that local departments are not content to rely on the "highly regulated" federal state and federal-level DNA databases, the Times reports.

“Unfortunately, what goes into the national database are mostly reference swabs of people who are going to prison,”

The national database mostly is full of reference swabs from people who go to prison, Jay Whitt, of the company DNA:SI Labs, told the Times.

They’re not the ones we’re dealing with day in day out, the ones still on the street just slipping under the radar," Whitt said.

This arrival of these regional databases could stir up concerns about privacy practices and how this information may be used.

“We have been warning law enforcement that when public attention began to focus on these rogue, unregulated databases, people would be disturbed,” said Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck.