Chances are, you don't know much about New Jersey's Newborn Bloodspot Screening program. Attorney C.J. Griffin went looking for details on the state Department of Health's website ... and found it didn't say much.
The site made the intended purpose of the program clear enough: New Jersey collects samples from every newborn baby to test them for indications of serious diseases. It's a common practice, but every state has its own rules, disclosures, and privacy safeguards.
But the New Jersey site doesn't say how long the samples are retained (23 years). And it doesn't say anything about the question at the heart of a lawsuit Griffin is pursuing on behalf of news site New Jersey Monitor and the Office of the Public Defender: How often are these records used in criminal cases?
Griffin and New Jersey Monitor reporter Dana DiFilippo spoke with Matt Katz, who was sitting in as host of the "Brian Lehrer Show" on Wednesday.
"First of all, as a parent, I knew nothing about this program and it's not required in our statute for parents to actually have informed consent," Griffin said. "So some parents might be notified and some may not."
The Office of the Public Defender alleges that the records were used at least once by law enforcement, to aid in the criminal investigation of a 1996 sexual assault — before the baby whose DNA was sampled was even born. State officials wouldn't turn over records that show how often the state's screening lab gets criminal subpoenas. Griffin is now representing the public defender and the New Jersey Monitor to force the release of that data.
DiFilippo sees serious privacy questions at issue.
"When you give blood for a specific purpose, it's problematic then if it would be used for anything beyond what you thought it was being used for," she said. And Griffin contends use of the babies' DNA to identify other individuals may not be legal at all.
She said a ruling could come in October.