New Jersey police are facing a lawsuit on suspicion of obtaining blood samples taken from babies for disease screening purposes and doing this without a warrant to use the results of DNA analyses to help in investigations against the parents.
The legal action was launched by the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and the first hearing is set to take place on September 8. The Office initially tried to learn more about the practice through public records law requests, but these were denied on two occasions.
We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.
Blood samples are taken from babies at birth to screen for diseases, and all states store them – some, like California, New York, Michigan, and Minnesota for a very long time – sometimes decades.
Needless to say that newborns cannot give consent for their blood samples to be used in police investigations, but what's even more jarring is that parents are also not informed about the possibility of the samples/DNA of their children being used in this way – nor are they asked for permission, i.e., given a chance to opt-out.
In New Jersey, the case that shed light on this investigative method involved the police serving a subpoena to a lab, which turned a child's sample over. The police were then able to obtain DNA evidence and use it against the father, related to a crime committed a quarter of a century earlier.
The big picture here is that the police can access the entire DNA database with only a subpoena – a request – without needing a warrant, which is a court order and sets a much higher standard. Some see the practice as illegal and the outcome of the lawsuit will show where the courts stand on that.
There are other concerns about how DNA data is used these days, not only by state entities but also by big private companies. These include the likes of Google, who three years ago teamed up with US healthcare giant Ascension to gain access to more than 50 million medical records, as part of Project Nightingale.
Then there's Blackstone Group's Ancestry and 23andMe who both have huge DNA databases – while there are no proper laws and regulations to govern how that information is used.