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Orange County Prosecutors Operate “Vast, Secretive” Genetic Surveillance Program
by Jordan Smith
Posted July 20, 2021

growing collection of DNA by law enforcementStates have long maintained DNA databases containing the profiles of people convicted of felony crimes as well as unknown profiles developed from crime scene evidence. But those systems are created by legislation, strictly regulated, and publicly funded. They typically link up to the Combined DNA Index System, a nationwide network administered by the FBI that was built with the goal of helping to solve and deter crime.

In contrast, the Orange County database is unregulated and targets individuals charged with some of the lowest-level misdemeanor offenses imaginable — generating DNA samples that, by law, cannot be uploaded to CODIS. It is the only known DNA database in the country run by prosecutors, who now routinely predicate many misdemeanor plea deals or case dismissals on an individual agreeing to give up their genetic privacy. As of 2019, the database contained nearly 200,000 DNA profiles, making it far larger than many state-run, legislatively created DNA databases.

The scheme is questionably legal and ethically dubious. “The prosecution of marginal petty misdemeanor cases has allowed prosecutors to create a vast genetic surveillance system that would otherwise not exist,” University of California, Berkeley law professor Andrea Roth wrote in a 2019 law review article on the OCDA program, known locally as “spit and acquit.” Roth was the first to do a deep dive into the “vast, secretive” database. More…