chat, DHS, DNA, FBI, immigration, Kirkpatrick, law enforcement, US

“Rapid” DNA: Not super rapid. Still really cool. More steak than sizzle.

FBI eager to embrace mobile ‘Rapid DNA’ testing (PC Advisor)

It’s been the FBI’s dream for years — to do near-instant DNA analysis using mobile equipment in the field — and now “Rapid DNA” gear is finally here.

Really!? Near instant? Mobile equipment? Are FBI agents are running around with hand held DNA devices that give instant feedback?

Not really.

According to the article, “…[T]he Rapid DNA device can spit out an individual’s DNA data within 90 minutes… measures about 27-by-24-by-16 inches, costs about $245,000.”

Compared to other biometric deployments, this isn’t particularly rapid or mobile.

Though I’ve made some sport with rapid DNA in the past, there are some applications where only DNA analysis will do and the applications that government bodies have in mind for “rapid DNA” don’t exactly lend themselves to breathless reporting or Gattaca* references.

First, the FBI wants faster and cheaper DNA analysis to help clear cold cases where the state possesses DNA evidence by comparing the DNA of arrestees with an evidence database.

We discussed this very point with Mike Kirkpatrick in a recent twitter Biometric Chat.

Q4: Then, if the Big Three of biometrics are Face, Finger/palm print & Iris – Where does DNA fit in?

A4: There’s an ongoing multi-agency effort on rapid DNA, which will put a “quick” DNA capability at the booking stations. We should see this in the market within the next couple of years. It’ll help solve alot of cases. DNA in many ways is the ultimate biometric but still has many privacy issues associated with it as well as the past relative slowness in getting results. It can prove someone innocent as easily as proving someone guilty, which is good as all in criminal justice should be searching for the truth. [ed. formatting edited to de-twitter the Q&A]

Then, there are other government ID applications where only DNA will suffice such as this one, having to do with immigration and whether certain individuals are related by family, described in a very interesting Computerworld article from about a year ago (blog post here).

One pent-up need for a rapid DNA analysis kit is coming for the Department of Homeland Security’s citizenship and emigration services, according to Christopher Miles, biometrics program manager at DHS.

The uncomfortable realization that the government might be wasting a huge amount of time reading fraudulent documents and listening to lies was a lesson learned a few years ago in trying to help refugees in Kenya that wanted to emigrate to the U.S. In that instance, the U.S. government took about 500 DNA samples, did a lab analysis to verify family relationships, and found out 80% were fraudulent, Miles said.

If all you have is a DNA database or if you need to find out if two people are related, DNA is the only biometric modality that can help. In these cases, and compared to what went before it: 90 minutes really is fast; $1,500 per transaction (a guess) really is cheap; and something the size of a microwave oven really is mobile.

*The article’s author, while suspected of the former, is innocent of the latter. As for Gattaca, I enjoyed the film but I can’t believe it was released fifteen years ago: October 24, 1997.

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