In California, DNA collected from sexual assault victims during an investigation can no longer be used for other purposes, including investigating other crimes. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law Friday.
The bill was introduced in California after the district attorney’s office discovered that the San Francisco Police Department had used DNA collected from a victim during a sexual assault investigation to tie that victim to a property crime. In a sexual assault case, a victim’s DNA is collected in order to exclude their genes from an investigation, but the district said the police department was adding that information to its general genetic database.
The victim whose arrest kicked off the revelations sued the city of San Francisco in September.
There are federal laws preventing victim DNA from being included in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database. But state and local police departments have developed and maintained their own databases that aren’t subject to the same rules. “Police departments around the country have, over time, developed these separate databases that are largely unregulated,” Andrea Roth, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Wired.
New laws over the past few years have started to restrict police power to use DNA data that was not originally intended for criminal investigations. Maryland and Montana, for example, passed laws last year limiting police use of consumer DNA databases developed by genealogy companies (like GEDmatch, which was used to identify the Golden State Killer) to find suspects.