Council Member Corey Johnson Introduces Legislation to Prohibit Unauthorized DNA Database at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2015

City Hall — NYC Council Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson today introduced legislation that would prohibit the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) from retaining the DNA profiles of persons who have never been convicted of a crime.

Contrary to the civil rights law’s proscription and unlike the State DNA databank, OCME has created its own database that retains for the purpose of continuous searching the DNA profiles of individuals that the NYPD has identified as “suspects,” but who have never been convicted of a crime. This local database conducts DNA profile analyses that are prohibited by the civil rights law and upsets the carefully calibrated balance between individual rights and law enforcement struck by the state legislature. As a result of OCME’s policy, NYPD has the power to subject an individual to constant and permanent DNA profile analysis by designating that individual as a “suspect,” despite the fact that the state legislature concluded that such testing should be reserved for individuals convicted of certain crimes.

This raises potential privacy concerns for both individuals who were never suspects in a criminal investigation as well as for those who were at one time suspects but who were not convicted of crimes. Also of concern is the possibility that individuals are not given proper notice that the DNA profile generated from their biological samples can and may be retained indefinitely and used in future investigations.

Council Member Johnson’s legislation would prohibit the OCME from placing the DNA profiles of individuals who were never convicted of a crime into a database for the purpose of comparing their DNA profiles to DNA evidence gathered at crime scenes in the future.

The OCME would still be able to maintain an index of DNA profiles derived from evidence recovered from crime victims, crimes scenes or accident scenes, or upload such profiles to state or national databases. The OCME would still be able to maintain an index containing DNA profiles of missing persons or their family members, or of volunteers who have provided DNA samples for quality assurance purposes.

OCME’s “suspect” database is not only unauthorized, it is not necessary. OCME can eliminate its database and continue to maintain the local Forensic Index, which contains DNA profiles from crime scene evidence, and continue to test DNA found at crime scenes against DNA collected from victims, witnesses, or suspects in a particular case. According to OCME, when it analyzes the DNA profile of a victim or witness, it conducts the analysis and retains the information necessary to continue investigating the open case, but does not upload the individual’s DNA to the local database. OCME should not single out “suspects” for different treatment and subject their DNA to immediate, continuous, and indefinite DNA profile analysis.

Council Member Johnson’s legislation will prohibit OCME’s unauthorized database and bring the office into compliance with state law.

“As DNA technology continues to evolve and improve, it is more important than ever that our government respects privacy rights,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council’s Health Committee. “Civil liberties are 100% compatible with law enforcement and forensics. I appreciate the excellent work that the OCME’s Forensic DNA Laboratory does, and want to work with OCME to ensure that it is performing its critical role in criminal investigations in a way that protects the privacy and rights of New Yorkers.”

"For far too long, OCME has unfairly violated the privacy rights of New Yorkers by retaining DNA profiles of those not convicted of crimes,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society. “We applaud Council Member Johnson's legislation to stop this practice for those not convicted of felonies and look forward to continuing to work with him on ways to end the practice completely."