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    Federal Government Zeroes in on Babies’ Blood

    Wired reports on the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007, which became law last month. The Act gives the Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders and Genetic Diseases in Newborns and Children (part of the federal Health Services Administration) the power to condition State grants (original or renewal) on the State’s implementation of the Committee’s guidelines on how and for how long to store blood from newborns.

    “Currently, each state has its own policy about storing newborn blood samples. California has screened and stored more than 12 million newborn babies’ blood spots since 1980, while Texas disposes of them within months,” according to Wired.

    If you’ve seen any of the CSI-type shows, then you know that DNA can be gathered from blood samples. Add to this the fact that the new law requires the federal government “to establish and maintain a central clearinghouse of current educational and family support and services information, materials, resources, research, and data on newborn screening …”

    It’s easy to see how quickly this database, full of information originally collected for medical and research purposes, could be morphed into a national DNA system that law enforcement officials could tap without needing to get a warrant. That’s not too far a step from where we are today:

    • From a report I wrote in 2007: “The Kyl Amendment [to the 2006 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act] greatly expanded the collection of DNA. It authorized the collection of DNA from anyone arrested or charged for a felony or crime of violence. It also authorized the collection of DNA from any non-U.S. citizen detained by a federal agency. This means that U.S. citizens who are arrested or charged but not convicted of specified crimes will have their DNA collected. Non-U.S. citizens who are detained for any reason will have their DNA collected. There is an expungement provision, but it is not automatic. A person can have her DNA expunged from the database only by filing a certified copy of a final court order establishing that a conviction has been, or, in the case of an arrest, that no charge was filed within the applicable time period, or the charge has been dismissed or resulted in an acquittal.”
    • In February, the FBI awarded Lockheed Martin a $1 billion, 10-year contract to build a massive biometrics database including fingerprints, iris scans and palm prints of U.S. residents.
    • The FBI also has proposed an international biometrics database, where the US and EU countries would share data on suspects.
    • The European Commission proposes to gather biometrics data from all tourists and business travelers.

    There are significant privacy, civil liberties and security problems created by such massive system that would share data, including inaccurate or fake information. One high-profile example: In 2004, a man in Oregon was mistakenly linked to the Madrid train bombings because fingerprints found at the scene were misread. The FBI admitted its mistake and there was an investigation of misconduct by the Department of Justice. FBI officials said there were problems with the original print, but Spanish authorities told the FBI early in the case that the prints did not match this Oregon man yet he was still arrested and interrogated.

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