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SLC company creates cloud-based DNA database for local police

Privacy » Advocate raises security issues, but company says there is a need.

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"It seems logical that someone should develop this type of product," said Henry, of the state crime lab.

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What are the safeguards? » But there are potential pitfalls.

One, says the ACLU’s Lowe, is the security of cloud-based computing. It’s a hot concept for tech companies, and gaining popularity with the masses with applications such as the web-based word processing program GoogleDocs.

"There have already been some concerns about security related to cloud databases in the private sector," said Lowe, whose organization opposes the idea that anyone arrested for a violent felony could be entered into the database, even if they turn out to be innocent. "DNA can reveal all sorts of information, including family history, race, background."

Sorenson Forensics is housing the data on Microsoft servers, said Szczepanski, information systems manager at Sorenson Genomics, parent company of Sorenson Forensics. In addition to being encrypted with an authorized log-on and password, the information isn’t stored with any names or identifying information. The database matches, meanwhile, would be used for generating leads rather than being directly admissible in court

State agencies relying on a private company to house such sensitive data is also a potential problem, Lowe said.

"What sort of safeguards are in place on who can access it? Under what circumstances is that information shared?" she said. "There are a whole host of issues that come up in using private companies to help law enforcement in this way."

The proprietary nature of the LEAD database could also be an issue. Utah’s state-run database is part of the FBI’s nationwide Combined DNA Index System, which allows detectives to compare their suspect DNA with data collected nationally, but agency’s private cloud-based database would not be.

"We need [the databases] to talk to each other," Henry said. Though the process might be slower, state lab technicians and the FBI also act as gatekeepers and safeguards for DNA storage, both curating and ensuring the security of that information.

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But there is already a flood of DNA information to categorize, and it will only grow as the technology becomes more widely available, cheaper, and in demand in court. In an era of recession-strapped governments, the idea that the state might look to private companies to help make that data more available and usable doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

"We’re seeing this technological change and it’s inevitable," Henry said. "Our policy discussions are behind."


Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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