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Federal Court Agrees: Prosecutors Can’t Keep Forensic Evidence Secret from Defendants

When the government tries to convict you of a crime, you have a right to challenge its evidence. This is a fundamental principle of due process, yet prosecutors and technology vendors have routinely argued against disclosing how forensic technology works.

For the first time, a federal court has ruled on the issue, and the decision marks a victory for civil liberties.

EFF teamed up with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to file an amicus brief arguing in favor of defendants’ rights to challenge complex DNA analysis software that implicates them in crimes. The prosecution and the technology vendor Cybergenetics opposed disclosure of the software’s source code on the grounds that the company has a commercial interest in secrecy.

The court correctly determined that this secrecy interest could not outweigh a defendant’s rights and ordered the code disclosed to the defense team. The disclosure will be subject to a “protective order” that bars further disclosure, but in a similar previous case a court eventually allowed public scrutiny of source code of a different DNA analysis program after a defense team found serious flaws.

This is the second decision this year ordering the disclosure of the secret TrueAllele software. This added scrutiny will help ensure that the software does not contribute to unjust incarceration.


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About The Author

Kit Walsh

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows. Visit https://www.eff.org

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