By Kevin Deutsch
A proposed state law would require New York City to expunge all records stored in its municipal DNA identification index—a database that has come under scrutiny for what critics describe as illegal collection of genetic material.
The bill, sponsored by state Senator Brad Hoylman and co-sponsored by state Senators Julia Salazar and Andrew Gounardes, would clarify that the only DNA identification index authorized under current law is the one overseen by the state. It would also prohibit local governments from establishing or maintaining their own DNA databases, like the one controlled by New York City.
“We have to protect New Yorkers’ civil rights,” Hoylman Tweeted in August. “I will be fighting hard to pass the bill next year.”
The city’s DNA database includes tens of thousands of genetic samples procured by the NYPD, but few details about the city’s collection methodology – or whose DNA is kept on file – have been made public.
The law enforcement tool is not regulated by any city or state government oversight bodies, and defense attorneys recently sued to stop the NYPD from collecting samples for storage, alleging racial bias.
The city database contains more than 82,000 genetic profiles, more than 31,000 of which belong to people who were never charged with a crime. Many of the samples were collected surreptitiously by the NYPD, critics said.
The bill that would outlaw the database is currently in committee with the Senate Internet and Technology Committee.
New York State oversees its own, legislatively approved DNA Databank, which contains more than 682,000 genetic profiles from people convicted of felonies and misdemeanors. The city’s database has never been approved by the City Council nor the state legislature.