The Department of Justice is developing a regulation related to the use of DNA for border security applications that will enable the Department of Homeland Security to expand its collection of DNA to detainees in its custody just as it uses other biometrics such a fingerprints, a senior DHS official said earlier this month.
The regulation is “forthcoming” and will establish a “framework for the way forward…for operational and practical issues” and will allow DHS to “phase in” a plan for the use of Rapid DNA systems and related procedures to for collecting DNA from the broad detainee population, the official said on a background call hosted by DHS.
DHS earlier this year conducted pilot evaluations of Rapid DNA technology to help weed out fraud in claimed familial relationships for alleged family and partial family units turning themselves in at the border. DHS has said the Double Helix evaluation was successful.
Going forward, DHS wants to expand the use of Rapid DNA and plans to conduct another pilot that will link the technology with the FBI’s authoritative DNA database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Using CODIS will help identify individuals, the official said. In cases where an individual’s DNA isn’t in the database, DNA collection will serve as the first encounter in terms of obtaining that person’s DNA, the official said.
For the Double Helix evaluation, DHS officials used the Rapid DNA analysis technology onsite to determine whether someone claiming a child was actually a familial match to that child.
Linking to CODIS is a “completely different path forward,” the official said. “This is a broader population we’re applying to…This is more of the fuller scope DNA profile that we’re taking in order to help identify a person.”
The scope and timing of the expanded used of Rapid DNA is unclear. DHS and DoJ officials have established a working group that includes various subgroups to work out related legal, operational, technology and privacy issues, the official said. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are being included to help with the operational issues, the official said.
Existing law, namely the DNA Fingerprinting Act of 2005, allows the DoJ to collect DNA from people arrested under the authority of the U.S. The official said on the call that this applies to illegal immigrants.
The U.S. routinely collects biometric data, typically fingerprints and facial photos, from foreign nationals applying for visas to visit the U.S. legally and again upon their arrival. DHS is also beginning to use facial recognition to determine that foreign nationals have departed the U.S. in accordance with their visas.
DHS also routinely collects biometric data from illegal immigrants entering the U.S. The official said that the DNA data will serve as an additional data point to verify a person’s identity.
The CODIS system is typically used for linking individuals to violent crimes and for finding missing persons.