Our DNA is our most private and identifiable piece of information -- even more so than physical fingerprints or our social security number. As DNA technologies improve, and it becomes easier to make specific matches at the individual level, we worry about the ethical and social implications this has on privacy. The Supreme Court case, Maryland v. King (2013), paved the way for widespread use of DNA technologies by law enforcement, and today, anyone arrested for a felony will have their DNA collected, stored, and surveilled by state or federal governments. However, even if this person is found not guilty, their data remains in the system. This feeds into issues of structural and institutional racism as communities of color, who suffer from inequities in justice and disproportionate arrests, become increasingly larger parts of these DNA databases and therefore are more likely to have their privacy violated by the state.
What it does
The law allows for arrestees who never had charges filed or were found not guilty to remove their DNA from state and federal databases. However, the law also requires the arrestee to begin this process -- not the state. Our application helps eligible arrestees find and complete the required paperwork to regain their personal privacy-- when it should never have been violated in the first place-- by expunging their DNA profile.
Our application offers 3 features: 1) We seek to inform users about the importance of DNA privacy, the problems of DNA collection by both the state and private corporations, and the possibility of DNA expungency. For arrestees, we will help them discover if they are eligible. 2) We seek to empower users to complete the required paperwork to expunge their DNA. We do this by streamlining the application process, autofilling the application, and clarifying legal terminology. 3) We seek to support users to finish the expungency process. Users will obtain a printable version of the application forms/letters. Our task tracker helps users contact the correct authorities and obtain the required certified paperwork from the Court.
How we built it
The frontend of our app was built in Figma and the backend implemented with react-native.
This was our first time using Figma, so we spent a lot of time navigating that tool. Trying to use react-native to make a fully-usable app was difficult, and unfortunately, we couldn't make a fully working app by the deadline.
What we learned
As a group comprising mostly beginner hackers, we learned a lot about new languages and setting standards for a project. We hope to continue building this tool, so it is easy to use and accessible, after CivHacks!
What's next for Outta The System
We hope to expand Outta the System for arrestees in states outside of California. Given that all 50 states have some form of DNA collection and the majority require that arrestees initiate profile removal themselves, we want to include assisted paperwork completion and task trackers for other states.
Furthermore, most private companies that collect DNA, such as Ancestry and 23andme, have an option to remove data that must be initiated by the user. We hope to introduce some method to support the clearing DNA data from private corporations in the future.