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Security: What if all law enforcement agencies could do instant DNA analysis?

Privacy debate starting; "Do good with biometrics and avoid evil."

By , Network World
October 04, 2012 07:08 AM ET

Network World - What would happen if everyone could do DNA analysis within minutes using a simple computerized box that accepted a person's cell samples on a swab and spit out the answer about a person's genetic identity automatically?

Though it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, that possibility is now within reach. And as the new capability of what's being called 'Rapid DNA' analysis takes off, law enforcement in police stations and the FBI could be using it to catch criminals without having to send DNA off to official DNA-testing labs as is done now. But it doesn't stop there. U.S. agencies could not only use this instant "DNA analysis in a box" to check the identity of someone wanting to come into the country, but easily check to see if two people who say they're related really are since DNA genetic information can provide that. And that's just what governments might do with it -- there's no reason that businesses and individuals couldn't easily be doing DNA analysis, too, in the years to come.

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"What science has given us is some very miraculous work in the DNA world," said Peter Verga, chief of staff for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, during his keynote at the Biometric Consortium Conference in Tampa recently.

security DNA

After years of research encouraged by the FBI and DoD, 'Rapid DNA' analysis-in-a-box is here, proving a DNA profile can be produced automatically, with no need for professional lab training, in 90 minutes or less. Two companies, integenX and NetBio, are the manufacturers whose 'Rapid DNA' equipment is now under government evaluation at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Laboratory. More companies, including Lockheed Martin, are expected to soon follow.

Verga noted it would theoretically be possible in the future to do a DNA profile on travelers coming into Dulles Airport, for example, for security purposes. But whatever ends up happening with the new power for instant DNA analysis, it must "adhere to the rule of law" and conform to the idea that one must "do good with biometrics and avoid evil," he added.

The 'Rapid DNA' analysis is only going to get more powerful in what it can do.

Richard Selden, CEO of NetBio, describes its ANDE System as a 'Rapid DNA' box that measures 26.6''-inches by 16.5-inches' x 23.1-inches' and can take an inserted cotton swab with cell samples from someone's cheek and produces a DNA profile in 83 minutes. Ruggedized for air, truck and hand-carry, it's "stable for at least six months without refrigeration," said Selden, speaking about it at the conference. It works in "an uncontrolled environment" with "no manual processing."

To match DNA, it can connect to a remote database or do the DNA matching in a local database onboard. The technology developed by NetBio is already being expanded into next-generation device that will accept very minute samples of DNA collected from cups or virtually anywhere for a DNA profile of the individual. The box is also being expanded to do "kinship analysis," Selden pointed out.

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