November 21, 2014
The FBI Is Very Excited About This Machine That Can Scan Your DNA In 90 Minutes; ‘Every Move You Make, Every Step You Take I’ll Be Watching You”
Shame Bauer, writing in the November 20, 2014 edition of MotherJones, begins, “Robert Schueren shook my hand firmly, handed me his business card, and flipped it over — revealing a short list of letters and numbers.” “Here is my DNA profile. He smiled, I have nothing to hide.” “I had come to meet Schueren, CEO of IntegenX, at his company’s headquarters in Pleasanton California, to see its product: a machine the size of a large desktop printer that can unravel your genetic code — in the time it takes to watch a movie.”
“Schueren grabbed a cotton swab, and dropped it into a plastic cartridge. That’s what, say, a police officer would use to wipe the inside of your cheek to collect a DNA sample after an arrest, he explained,” wrote Mr. Bauer. “Other bits of material with traces of DNA on them, like cigarette butts, or fabric, could work too.” Or, a post-it-note if one were to touch the sticky side of the note. “He inserted the cartridge in the machine; and pressed a green button on its touch screen: “It’s that simple.” “Ninety minutes later, the RapidHIT 200 would generate a DNA profile , check it against a database; and, report on whether it found a match.”
“The RapidHIT represents a major technological leap –testing a DNA sample in a forensics lab normally takes at least two days. This has government agencies very excited,” Mr. Bauer wrote. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Justice Department funded the initial research for “rapid DNA,” technology, and just after a year on the market, the $250K RapidHIT is already being used in a few states, as well as China, Russia Australia, and countries in Africa and Europe.”
“We’re not always sure how it is being used,” Schueren said. “All we can say is that it’s used to give accurate identification of an individual.” Civil liberties advocates worry that Rapid DNA will spur new efforts by the FBI, and police to collect ordinary citizens’ genetic code.”
“The U.S. Government will soon test the machine in refugee camps in Turkey and possibly Thailand, and on families seeking asylum in the U.S.,” said Chris Miles, Manager of the Department of Homeland Security’s Biometrics Program. “We have all these families that claim they are related, but we don’t have any way to verify that,” he added. Miles added that “rapid DNA testing will be voluntary, though refusing a test could cause an asylum application to be rejected.”
“Miles added that federal immigration officials are interested in using rapid DNA to curb trafficking, by ensuring that children entering the country are related to adults with them. Jeff Heimberger, the Vice President of Marketing at IntegenX, says the government has also inquired about using rapid DNA to screen green-card applicants.”
“Meanwhile, police have started using Rapid DNA in Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina,” Mr. Bauer wrote. “In August, sheriffs in Columbia, South Carolina, used RapidHIT to nab an attempted murder suspect. The machine’s speed provides a major “investigative lead,” said Vince Figarelli, Superintendent of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Lab, which is using RapidHIT to compare DNA evidence from property crimes against the state’s database of 300K samples. Heimburger notes the system can also prevent false arrests, and wrongful convictions: There is great value in finding out that somebody is not a suspect.”
“But, the technology is not a silver bullet for DNA evidence,” Mr. Bauer wrote. “The IntegenX executives brought up rape kits so often that it sounded like their product could make a serious dent in the backlog of a half million untested kits. Yet, when I pressed Schueren this,” Mr. Bauer wrote, “he conceded that RapidHIT is not actually capable of processing rape kits…since it can’t discern individual DNA in comingled, bodily fluids.”
“Despite the new technology’s crime-solving potential, privacy advocates are wary of its spread,’ Mr. Bauer notes. “If rapid-DNA machines can be used in a refugee camp, “they can certainly be used in the back of a squad car,” says Jennifer Lynch, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I could see that happening in the future, as the prices of those machines goes down.”
“Lynch is particularly concerned that law enforcement agencies will use the devices to scoop up and store even more DNA profiles. Every state already has a forensic DNA database, and while these systems were initially set up to track convicted, violent offenders, their collection thresholds have steadily broadened. Today, at least 28 include data from anyone arrested for certain felonies, even if they are not convicted; some store the DNA of people who have committed misdemeanors as well. The FBI’s National DNA Index System has more than 11 million profiles of offenders; plus 2 million people who have been arrested….but, not necessarily convicted of a crime,” Mr. Bauer observed.
“For its part,’ Mr. Bauer notes, “DHS will not hang onto refugees;’ DNA records, insists Miles.” (“They aren’t criminals, he pointed out.”) “However, undocumented immigrants in custody may be required to provide DNA samples, which are put in the FBI’s database. DHA documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation say there may even be a legal case for “mandating collection of DNA” from anyone granted legal status under a future immigration amnesty. (The documents also state that intelligence agencies, and the military are interested in using Rapid DNA to identify, race, sex, and other factors machines currently do not reveal).”
“The FBI is the only federal agency allowed to keep a national DNA-database,” Mr. Bauer says. “Currently police must use a lab to upload genetic profiles to it. But, that could change,” Mr. Bauer warns. “The FBI’s website says it is eager to see rapid DNA in wide use; and that it supports “legislative changes necessary” to make that happen. IntegenX’s Heimburger says the FBI is almost finished working with members of Congress on a bill that would give “tens of thousands” of police stations…..Rapid-DNA machines that could search the FBI’s system; and, adds arrestees’ profiles to it. (The RapidHIT is already designed to do this).IntegenX has spent $70K lobbying the FBI, DHS, and Congress over the last two years.”
“The FBI declined to comment.” Mr. Bauer wrote, “and Heimburger wouldn’t say which lawmakers might sponsor the bill. But, some have already given Rapid DNA their blessing. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a former prosecutor who represents the district where IntegenX is based, says he’d like to see the technology “put to use quickly, to help law enforcement” — while protecting civil liberties. In March, he and seven other Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Barbara Lee of California, urged the FBI to access Rapid DNA’s “viability for broad deployment” in police departments across the country.”
DNA Shedding, Facial Recognition, IRIS Scanning, Fingerprints on Cell Phones, Drones Overhead, Camera’s Everywhere, And, Digital Exhaust Are Making Identity Management Ubiquitous And, Undermining Intelligence Agencies And Law Enforcement Abilities To Keep Someone Under Cover For Very Long
The musical group/band, Sting and The Police made the lyrics “Every Move You Make, Every Step You Take, I’ll Be Watching You,” famous; but, it is the rise of the machines, and advancements in nanotechnology, biometrics, pixel clarity, diagnostics, body scanning at airports and biometric passports, and computing algorithms that are wreaking havoc on our ability to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy; and, for the law enforcement and intelligence communities — keeping someone under cover for very long. Biometric passports, for example, are embedded with microchips containing a person’s face, sex, fingerprints, date and place of birth, and other personal data. As the body scanning technology at airports and elsewhere get more sophisticated, coupled with biometric passports, etc. — how indeed — are we going to be able to keep a very valuable undercover operative — undercover? I don’t have the answer; and, I hope we are still one step ahead of the adversary in this realm; but, logic would tell you that undercover operations are likely to get increasingly more difficult and challenging — if the aren’t already.
“If you go to one of those countries under an alias, you can’t go again under another name,” said a career spook to cyber security guru Bruce Schneier a few years back. “So, it’s a one-time thing — one and done. The biometric data on your passport and maybe your iris too, has been forever linked forever to whatever name was on your passport the first time. You can’t show up again under a different name — with the same data,” game over.
It is not hard to envision a mobile, hand-held version of RapidHIT, soon being available to criminal gangs, nation-states, and other malcontents, who will use this technology to discover and ferret out “spies” within their midst. How accurate is this technology? And, what are the chances of a false positive/negative, and/or, how ‘easily’ can it be fooled, or defeated? Presumably, the engineers who developed this technology know the answer; and, if they don’t they better wargame these kind of scenarios and figure it out — before one of our adversaries do, and put one of our most precious HUMINT operatives out of business. V/R, RCP