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Searching DNA For Relatives Raises Concerns 199

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 JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:43PM (#25893497) Journal

    I suppose this might be slightly off-topic, but one concern I have with the use of DNA evidence is that, now that everybody knows about DNA evidence, what's to stop someone from planting DNA evidence at a crime scene? 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."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:45PM (#25893513)

    But dress it all up as "social networking" and you'll have zillions of willing participants.

  • routine in Britain (Score:4, Insightful)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:50PM (#25893583)
    I dont know how the Brits let the authorities get aways with it. But relative search is routine in Scotland Yard. Also global DNA collections in local neighborhoods is routine. And keeping data forever is routine. The Brits just bend over and take it.
  • sauce (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eil ( 82413 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:54PM (#25893631) Homepage Journal

    I can understand how convicts, felons, suspects, and arrestees get their DNA thrown into a federal database, but how do they get the DNA of their family members if crime doesn't happen to run in the family? Where are all these DNA samples coming from?

  • by pembo13 ( 770295 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:03PM (#25893743) Homepage
    That didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would before law enforcement starts expanding use of their growing DNA data bank.
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:03PM (#25893751) Journal

    Well, as someone who used to live a truck stop I can tell you that many hookers are junkies and will be happy to sell you ANYTHING for cash. So I doubt it would be real hard to wave a twenty in front of a hooker and get anything you wanted, especially something she wouldn't be able to normally sell like a used condom.

    Of course this gets even worse if you think about it. How many times have YOU left DNA that could be recovered by anyone in a public place? A coke can, those of us like me who smoke leaving our butts in a public ashtray, etc. And as DNA gets used more and more it will be in a criminals best interest to pick up something like that, if for no other reason that it adds to the chance that you could throw them off the trail. And with WAY too many jurors watching CSI all the will have to say is "DNA evidence" and you ass is toast.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:19PM (#25893887) Homepage Journal

    if somebody that hates you that much has access to your DNA samples, you've already got some serious problems!

    Never been divorced have you?

  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:19PM (#25893895) Journal

    "Good thing I had this stamp made to imprint my signature, otherwise I would get writers cramp signing all these warrants. My clerk will stamp them for you on the way out."

  • by Binty ( 1411197 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:22PM (#25893927)
    Remember that law enforcement agencies keep the raw blood/hair/whatever sample. So, suppose you've got a guy who has been in and out of prison a few times and now is being investigated for another crime. The authorities are pretty sure he did it, but don't quite have the evidence for a conviction. It would be pretty convenient just to splash some of that previously collected sample around and guarantee a conviction. I think that is the parent's concern here.
  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:40PM (#25894081)
    I wonder what happens if son/daughter is adopted and doesn't know, yet this shows DNA link to a criminal parent. That's a nasty shock to the system, I can just see it now:

    Officer: Hi, can you tell us where that lowlife father of your is?
    Kid: He is at work at the moment.
    Officer: Yeah, drop the act kid, he ain't worked a day of his life. Now, where is he ya little lying bastard?
    Kid: He will come home from work in three hours...

    *three hours later*

    Officer: This ain't your dad! Quit fucking with us here!
    Kid: Whaaaaaaa! (Or any other such life changing crying sound when you suddenly find out you are adopted and your whole life has been a lie)
  • by Xiroth ( 917768 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:46PM (#25894143)

    Good point. Or consider problems that could come up if the kid's biological father was an anonymous sperm donor - could be bad if either the kid or the biological father got into trouble.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:50PM (#25894175) Homepage Journal
    If myspace or facebook started asking for hair clippings from subscribers, the DNA database would choke.
  • Lazy lawmaking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:07PM (#25894315)
    It seems lazy lawmaking to me that CA would put some law on the books and just wait for problems to arise.

    One would have thought that with a week or two on ask slashdot, a whole bunch of the more obvious problems with this approach could have been forestalled. And with another few weeks of expert review even more simple constraints could have been devised.

    It seems to me inevitable that this approach to investigation will only get more prevalent, so I don't see any reason why CA could not have spent some time to try and get some of the details right in advance.

    How about introducing a law with some overly-strict limitations and then relax them over time instead of introducing an overly-loosely managed system and then going back to make it right after it's ruined a few peoples lives.

    It just seems like a piss poor attitude to lawmaking to me.
  • What about clones? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by psyclone ( 187154 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:17PM (#25894407)

    Great points of this post's parent and grandparent; especially relative to descendants.

    Any questions involving genetic information should be examined with a long-term view. Perhaps not now, but think of future Clones. Should a cloned human pay the price of his/her predecessors genetic information? The mistakes they made in their previous life may affect their future life as a new individual. Communities of people, not just atomic families, may be singled out or "behaviorally predetermined" to commit crime simply on genetic heritage, of which they have no control. Perhaps that genetic heritage is combined with economic, credit, health and lifestyle information?

    It is only a matter of time until the cost of mapping 'enough'* of every living human's genome will be 'worth it'*. Shortly after, the cost of genome-mapping all available deceased humans will be negligible. The field of medicine will flourish with this information. (You may even gain heath insurance discounts with a year's proof of purchase at the grocery store -- you are rewarded for eating relative to your pre-determined health risks.)

    Yet every individual's privacy will diminish with access (any access) to a history of humanity's genetic information. Thus, thinking about DNA databases must be done with a long-term perspective.

    * = Where the information's value to society --be it a friendly or otherwise group of people-- outweighs the cost of gathering it. Perhaps the equivalent cost of fingerprinting every newborn baby equals the cost of genome mapping every newborn baby.

  • by lordofwhee ( 1187719 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:20PM (#25894879)
    IIRC, DNA matching is done based on 'junk' DNA. Assuming the particular markers used actually don't do anything, I'd be the first to sign up for an injection of a virus that will randomly change those markers around. Let them find me by my DNA when every cell has a different sequence.
  • by riceboy50 ( 631755 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @12:10AM (#25895651)
    Your argument is based on the assumption that the only reason someone might use a social network is for dating reasons. I think it is likely that many would be interested in the idea of connecting to other family branches. Genealogy is already an interest and hobby of many.
  • by js_sebastian ( 946118 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @07:11AM (#25897847)
    There was a similar issue in Italy. If you are a foreigner (from some non-EU country) legally working in Italy, and you want your family to join you, you can apply for them to get a visa. Since some of the countries these people come from have very poor records on this type of stuff, there was a proposal to verify this (no idea if it was accepted) with a DNA test, to see if those you claim are your children really are.

    Big brother issues aside, the problem is that some children may be adopted, and that the issue of parenthood is not as clear-cut as we would like to think. As well as the old latin saying:

    Mater semper certa est, pater numquam.
  • by dwarg ( 1352059 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @08:07AM (#25898155)

    Paragraphs man, paragraphs! It's a wall of bloody text up there. Not to mention a premature and gratuitous execution of Godwin's Law That said:

    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.

    So, government bad, but combining the clergy and attorneys "in the private sector" WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong?!? Or in other words, what we need to do is create another quasi-governmental agency (that answers to whom?) to entrust this super secret information to, but since it isn't called "government" it's somehow better than what it really is?

    You then go on to say that this entire mythical structure you've created would be useless because they wouldn't actually give out the information law enforcement is looking for. So why the hell are you suggesting we create it in the first place?

    You're entire post can be reduced to, "No! The gub'mint can't have my bodily fluid data." Saving you time you could use to add another layer to your tinfoil hat and haul a few more wheelbarrows of dirt out of your survivalist's bunker.

  • by BlairAtRice ( 886637 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @03:51PM (#25902441) Homepage
    This violates civil liberties in so many ways.

    The chance may be very small, but if I share 1/4 of the markers with a suspect (as a sibling would) then I have to deal with hassle of being questioned by the feds. It's profiling. You can't pull over everyone driving a lexus in a low income neighborhood looking for stolen cars and you can't question everyone who has a given number of repeats at a certain locus in hopes of finding a criminal.

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