Legal issues are likely to slow down the ability of the police and FBI to take 'Rapid DNA' analysis of suspects and merge it into the FBI's database of 10 million records to do comparisons to find matches. That's because current law calls for a system of accredited DNA labs, not do-it-yourself DNA analysis boxes. But secretive U.S. intelligence agencies are known to already being putting the 'Rapid DNA' boxes to use, according to sources. The U.S. military for a long time has been known to be accumulating an extensive collection of DNA samples in Afghanistan, for example, to stop terrorism.
The rise of 'Rapid DNA' makes some working in the official DNA labs uneasy. The new DNA-in-a-box could find a role in a lab environment, said Cecelia Crouse, crime lab director for the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office. But she's skeptical it's appropriate for use by those without the kind of training that professionals have in DNA report analysis.
"We still feel a qualified DNA analyst needs to interpret samples," said Crouse during a panel discussion at the conference. "We feel it still takes a qualified DNA analyst to interpret this and write a report."
But the whole point of the 'Rapid DNA' gear is that anyone, with five minutes of training on how to put in a cotton swab with cell samples into a box, can get the same outcome as a DNA professional in a lab.
And if the government can do this, so can the private sector, where paternity tests are in demand, and new businesses for instant analysis about that could spring up. The integenX RapidHIT box is selling now for a few hundred thousand dollars, so in theory there's no reason that someone couldn't buy one to do near-instant analysis of DNA samples. In high-security operations, a DNA sample of an individual's cells might become a typical request instead of fingerprints in the future.
And while a privacy debate is certain to erupt as the world learns more about how real 'Rapid DNA' is, there could also be whole new authentication mechanisms evolve based on a person's genetic identity.
Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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