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Searching DNA For Relatives Raises Concerns 199

Posted by kdawson
from the database-creep dept.
An anonymous reader calls our attention to California's familial searching policy, which looks for genetic ties between culprits and kin. The technique has come to the fore in the last few years, after a Colorado prosecutor pushed the FBI to relax its rules on cross-state searches. "Los Angeles Police Department investigators want to search the state's DNA database again — not for exact matches but for any profiles similar enough to belong to a parent or sibling. The hope is that one of those family members might lead detectives to the killer. This strategy, pioneered in Britain, is poised to become an important crime-fighting tool in the United States. The Los Angeles case will mark the first major use of California's newly approved familial searching policy, the most far-reaching in the nation."
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Searching DNA For Relatives Raises Concerns

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  • by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:48PM (#25893559)
    One of the core protections in the US legal system is that you cannot be made to testify against a close relative. That niche just got filled nicely by DNA cross matching.
  • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:53PM (#25893619)

    Splash some body fluids here, drop some hair there, and smear some skin cells at a strategic location, and voila "we have DNA evidence that places the defendant at the scene of the crime."

    Congratulations on stumbling on the plot from GATTACA [imdb.com]. But your +n insightful is deserved because of the twist--although I've heard that prostitutes sell used condoms for this very reason. I can't find any links on the web to this effect so maybe its simply a urban legend. Hopefully defense attorneys with a modicum of intelligence will figure out that they can use planted DNA evidence as a defense.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:02PM (#25893737)
    That's why I always plant samples of my worst enemies hair, skin, and (ewww!) bodily fluids all around my house, so that when somebody tries to frame me, they will wind up framing my enemies instead! But seriously, if somebody that hates you that much has access to your DNA samples, you've already got some serious problems! My advice to you would be to stop screwing people that want to frame you for murder! While this might make a great episode of CSI:Geek Squad, I'm pretty sure most of the readers of slashdot (and most other people living in the real world) don't have to worry too much about being framed this way for murder.
    P.S. Is this the real reason some people want a genetically identical clone -- so they can blame all the rapes and murders they commit on the clone?
  • tangent (Score:5, Interesting)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <<circletimessquare> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:29PM (#25893993) Homepage Journal

    anyone remember that csi episode about the chimera?

    incredibly rare, but sometimes two fraternal twins will fuse while still blastocysts. so the dna of two seperate individuals form different organ lines in one individual. so your blood and kidneys and stomach might be from one person, while your brain, skin and lungs might be from another. most chimeras go through life never knowing what they are, but every once in awhile, a blood test reveals that, for example, a mother isn't even the mother of her own children (her womb is from a nonexistent twin):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_Fairchild [wikipedia.org]

    Lydia Fairchild was pregnant with her third child, when she and the father of her children, Jamie Townsend, separated. When Fairchild applied for welfare support in 2002, she was requested to provide DNA evidence that Townsend was the father of her children. While the results showed Townsend was certainly the father of the children, the DNA tests indicated that she was not their mother.

    This resulted in Fairchild being taken to court for fraud for claiming benefit for other people's children or taking part in a surrogacy scam. Hospital records of her prior births were disregarded. Prosecutors called for her two children to be taken into care. As time came for her to give birth to her third child, the judge ordered a witness be present at the birth. This witness was to ensure that blood samples were immediately taken from both the child and Fairchild. Two weeks later, DNA tests indicated that she was not the mother of that child either.

    A breakthrough came when a lawyer for the prosecution found an article[2] in the New England Journal of Medicine about a similar case that had happened in Boston, and realised that Fairchild's case might also be caused by chimerism. In 1998, 52-year old Boston teacher Karen Keegan was in need of a kidney transplant. When her three adult sons were tested for suitability as donors, it was discovered that two of them did not match her DNA to the extent that her biological children should. Later testing showed that Keegan was a chimera, a combination of two separate sets of cell lines with two separate sets of chromosomes, when a second set of DNA was found in other tissues[3] This DNA presumably came from a different embryo from the one that gave rise to the rest of her tissues.

    anyway, in csi, the aberation was used to good effect: the killer knew he would get away with the crimes because his dna from the crime scene would not match the dna from his lab tests. but of course, the dna would indicate the killer was a brother of the prime suspect, because half the dna would match his phantom brother (which puts a twist on the subject of this story: if relative dna banks enjoy common use, a lot more chimeras out there are going to come to light)

    most of the episode the csi investigators run after one brother of the suspect after another, in a fruitless red herring chase to find the dna of a brother who did not exist, except inside that of the killer

    http://www.csifiles.com/reviews/miami/bloodlines.shtml [csifiles.com]

    Todd has four living brothers, and one who died, named Joss. Sara questions fraternal twins Larry and Roger Coombs, who own a car repair shop together. Brass talks to one of the brothers who is a police officer, but the CSIs are unable to locate Kevin Coombs, another brother. ...

    Sara locates Kevin living on the edge of town in a trailer. He is called in for questioning, but the CSIs attention again alights on Todd. A strand of hair was found on Lindley's jacket, and the DNA is an exact match for Todd. When Grissom examines him, he notices some odd markings on his back.

    Grissom hits the books and reads up on fraternal twins and Chimeras. He brings Todd into the interrogation room: he's cracked the case. Todd is a Chimera. He should have had

  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:52PM (#25894203)
    One of the core protections in the US legal system is that you cannot be made to testify against a close relative. That niche just got filled nicely by DNA cross matching.
    .

    You are thinking of the old notion that you can't be forced to testify against your spouse. "The two become one."

    But "to testify" means "to be cross-examined."

    It is about what you can be forced to say on the stand, not about what was discovered in a forensic examination of your hair, blood, fingerprints and so on.

    The privilege against self-incrimination is fundamentally a defense against the use of psychological manipulation, extortion, bribery and torture to extract a confession.

  • Just a reminder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ghostworks (991012) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:58PM (#25894261)

    Now California police also reserve the right to take DNA from anyone they arrest for any reason. Which means if they can ever make the process an order of magnitude cheaper and faster, they could assemble a very large database very quickly with just the laws already on the books.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:40PM (#25894597)

    Congratulations on stumbling on the plot from GATTACA.

    There was also an episode of Law & Order where a vengeful woman hires a prostitute to get a condom full of semen in order to frame a man for murder.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:47PM (#25894659)

    What happens when 23andme.com makes a Facebook app that lets you find other people on Facebook to friend based on how close your genetic profiles match, or certain traits you share? It's more likely than you think, and I say this as someone who uses Facebook AND has had a genetic profile done through 23andme.com.

  • by happyslayer (750738) <david@isisltd.com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:06PM (#25894799)

    ...the usual disclaimers, IANAL, etc...

    Just to be specific, with some examples:

    Scenario #1: Mobster husband coming home from a hard day's "work"

    Hubby: Boy, Honey! That was a rough day! Do you have any idea how hard it is to chop up a guy with a Ginsu knife? We never thought Tony Da Rat would fit in that suitcase!

    The wife can't testify or be made to testify about Tony Da Rat's tragically funny disposal. Her husband related it to her (assuming no one else was around) as part of the marital confidential communication.

    Scenario #2: Wife greets Mobster Hubby after hard day's work

    Wife: Awww...honey. Looks like you had a rough day. Let me wash that bloody shirt. What do you want me to do with the head in the bowling bag?

    The wife canbe made to testify about the bloody shirt, the head in the bag, or anything else she directly sees, hears, touches, etc.

    The point is that it's not her privilege or choice...it's her husband's. He can refuse to let her testify about confidential communication--she can't just go forth and start spouting it off...not if it (or any subsequent evidence) is to be used in court.

  • by sillybilly (668960) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:22PM (#25894899)
    Or imagine a tool like this in the hands of Hitler. That's what's most wrong with this whole thing, the power it gives to someone over other people. Anonymity and privacy, being shielded and safe from some paternalistic overseeing power entity should be a right. Power should be given to government only as much as necessary. Such databases should be in the private sphere, held by someone like the clergy with the "seal of the confessional", or by attorneys in a fashion similar to attorney-client privilege. We need a system of internetized public notaries/attorneys holding confidential private information, regarding issues of identity, privacy, will/testament etc. Some kind of distributed database with confidentiality barriers. Queries run against it, and people having to give consent before answers are released. Government access to it should be absolutely limited, with very strict rights and needing a warrant. In fact no central databases should exist, but some kind of public key/private key system published by many attorneys, or public notaries, from which matches can be found, such as relatives, or criminals, without revealing identity. To a posted public key search the other local small databases should react, and if they find themselves to be a match to a request, they should ask the owner of that DNA whether he would like to reveal his identity to the query. Of course you would find no criminals this way, because who would confess, yes, I'm the one. But that's exactly what the 5th amendment is about, it's not about making law enforcement easy, to the contrary, protecting individual liberty at the price of "security", or "ease of law enforcement." Compiling databases about everybody in the name of security - well, you know what the founding fathers said: those who sacrifice liberty for security will get neither. A social security number databases tagging everyone for tax collection purposes should suffice. Fingerprint databases feel already too private, but all they reveal is your physical presence at a location, if you didn't wear gloves. And they are harder to plant than dna samples of hair, blood, etc. Fingerprints in the name of law enforcement, I can agree to that, because they don't contain much else about you. DNA, that's a whole other beast than a fingerprint. Occasional DNA tests by police, comparing suspects to locally found evidence could be OK, with the data returned to the owners, or owner's assigned attorney/public notary after the completion of the trial. It should not be allowed to be archived, even if it means a whole lot of wasted work, and having to redo everything over and over. Or who do you trust? You should not feel more secure because of the databases compiled in the name of security, if anything, fear some coup, some power takeover at the top by some mad men. Then imagine what power they will have over you to deride you and ride you to hell and back, simply because they feel like it. And you're at fault, who previously sacrificed your privacy and anonymity in the name of security. What security? If you have many small localized/secret databases exchanging information only as needed, in case of a power coup at the top, well, my neighborhood notary public might be willing to hide my DNA from the new government, just like some people were willing to hide jews during the Nazi regime. People being able to disobey laws is a prerequisite of liberty. Where is the guarantee that we will never have another criminal regime like that in power, coming up with laws that are criminal. The time to defend is now. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Law enforcement is important, but so is the 5th amendment, which is more important than law enforcement itself. So how can you hide your DNA, how can you stay anonymous, retain your privacy in this world? Is that even possible? No. But at least we could have a makebelieve, pretend to respect each others rights to privacy world. Anytime you give blood, or a hair sample, for a simple thing as a drug test, others have your DNA, if that sample is tied to you in
  • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:54PM (#25895151) Homepage

    because you want to date your cousin? or because you want to find people who are susceptible to the same diseases as you?

    genetic profiles don't seem very useful for social networking. they don't describe personality traits. at most you might be able to find people who share the same mental health issues as you (e.g. ADHD/ADD, bipolarism, schizophrenia, Asperger syndrome, etc.), but it wouldn't be much help in finding friends or potential dates.

    something like a personality profile generated by user surveys would be much more useful. there's no gene that's responsible for making someone like football/horror movies/snowboarding/sci-fi/Chuck Palahniuk/Chinese food/rock climbing/etc. and there isn't even a specific gene that causes people to be artistic/creative, intelligent, kind, etc. so what kind of traits would you be able to match using genetic profiles? risk of heart disease or prostate cancer?

    and if you're looking for romantic relationships, finding someone who closely matches your genetic profile is a bad idea. there's a reason why inbreeding is taboo. if anything, you'd want someone who's MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes are very different from you. that way your offspring will inherent a more diverse set of MHC genes, giving them a more robust immune system.

  • I had a conversation and a dream about this just last week. No joke. And this time your tin foil hats won't help you.

    I think the technology is there for the government to take genetic samples from everyone in the U.S. armed forces, and thereby build a database in which they could match any found genetic material by gene clade, and describe your relationship, and triangulate your placement in the larger family tree, with a reasonable degree of certainty.

    More simply put, a hair or skin flake on the ground could tell them who your brother, cousin, second cousin, uncle, all in different branches of your family, are. With that information it wouldn't be hard to find you.

    Really, I'd be more surprised to find out definitively that this wasn't already in place.

    Anyway, I feel a bit like a nutter saying it, but with enough computing power, we already have algorithms that do almost, if not, all of this.
  • by Splab (574204) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @05:56AM (#25897497)

    Also it says Canada, so different rules might apply.

    Here in Denmark during some riots in the spring the police raided several apartments illegally, they where searching for some of the instigators - while raiding they came across different illegal things like drugs and weapons, while the searches where illegal, so was the items found and there is no getting out of jail free card for those implicated.

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