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California Expands DNA Identification Policies 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the family-ties dept.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting on a new California policy to match the DNA of suspected criminals to the criminal's family members in order to use them as investigative leads. Use of partial DNA matching is drawing fire over privacy concerns from citizens and law experts. FBI officials are hesitating as well, though their concern is that the courts will not accept such techniques. Quoting: "The policy, which takes effect immediately, is designed to work like this: The state's crime lab will tell police about DNA profiles that come up during routine searches of California's offender database and closely resemble, but do not match, the DNA left at a crime scene. (Previously, the state refused to tell police about these partial matches.) When such partial matches do not surface or fail to produce a lead, a more customized familial search can be done in which computer software scans the database proactively for possible relatives. The software measures the chance of two people being related based on the rarity of the markers they share."
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California Expands DNA Identification Policies

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  • Full bore.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by headkase (533448) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:09PM (#23215668)
    They might as well mandate collection of DNA from everyone at birth. With the web of connections between people chances are at least one of your relatives will have their DNA on file which under this program will lead to you. This is the "slippery slope" part of it, if they went full bore and demanded DNA from everyone there would be figurative riots in the streets but a little step at a time...
    • As it is, the current system is grossly unfair to those related to people who have been sampled.

      If everyone is sampled at least it's fair.

      Grossly anti-civil-liberties, but fair.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Simply because something is 'fair' (meaning equally applied to everyone) doesn't make it better. I'd rather no ones rights were violated, but if that's impossible then I'd prefer as few peoples rights be violated as possible. I'd never want to have everyones rights violated if that could be avoided just for the sake of being 'fair'. Spreading around misery and wrong just for the sake of 'fairness' is crazy. All that does is create more misery and wrong in the world when there could have been less. It's bett
        • Apparently posting to Slashdot removes all visible indications of deadpan satire.

          Next time, I'll be sure to add <satire></satire> as needed.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        If taking DNA samples from a few people is bad, then taking samples from everyone - even in the interests of fairness - is worse.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      They might as well mandate collection of DNA from everyone at birth.
      I'd rather have that happen than what they're proposing.

      The change will lead to more convictions.
      The problem is that these convictions will not be equally distributed across the population.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wasted (94866)

        They might as well mandate collection of DNA from everyone at birth.

        I'd rather have that happen than what they're proposing.

        The change will lead to more convictions.

        Unless you are a celebrity, like a former pro running back.

        The problem is that these convictions will not be equally distributed across the population.

        Criminals aren't equally distributed across the population, either.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I am very sure this will come to be. With identification as powerful as DNA, the government must salivate at the opportunities it will create to control a population.

      It didn't used to be like this. Besides the obvious point of DNA analysis not being practical, we had leaders with a little more ethics, a little more respect for the Constitution, and a little more accountability.

      But as crime became more of a threat, and politicians wanted more power, we now have DNA databases, printers that encode uniqu
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by philspear (1142299)

        I am very sure this will come to be. With identification as powerful as DNA, the government must salivate at the opportunities it will create to control a population.
        It didn't used to be like this. Besides the obvious point of DNA analysis not being practical, we had leaders with a little more ethics, a little more respect for the Constitution, and a little more accountability.
        But as crime became more of a threat, and politicians wanted more power, we now have DNA databases, printers that encode unique sign

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:17PM (#23215744)
    A little background: In November 2004, a frightened California public passed proposition 69 [smartvoter.org], which allowed the state to maintain a DNA database of its citizens. The DNA samples are taken when you are arrested at the booking along with fingerprints and mug shots.

    This means that you don't ever have to be convicted- hell, you don't even have to be charged- to have your DNA added to this database. People who are wrongly accused do NOT automatically have their DNA expunged from the database.

    When do the DNA-sequence-hashed social security numbers come out again?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mabhatter654 (561290)
      exactly the problem. They're getting to the point they "contrive" reasons to pull your DNA. It's still seen as a "silver bullet" in many courts that the tests can't be close or wrong. Minorities should worry because next time they get a "D.W.B" it may get them in the database. Combine with biased, loose-lipped detectives just being in the database is enough to damage a reputation or in some places pre-convict you in the newspapers.
  • Is this really anything more than a 21st century equivalent of getting a fingerprint match and then using government records to search for family connections (or even just last names)?

    I'd say it's even a fuzzier link because you could get matches from cousins who don't even really know you.
    • Re:Hard to say... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sirket (60694) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:32PM (#23215864)
      What the hell do fingerprints have to do with this? You can't find a persons relatives via a finger print. You can't say "hey- think fingerprints looks almost like this other guys, so it much be a relatives!"

      With DNA, you're using a DNA sample from a crime scene and matching it to a known criminals DNA to find a relative.

      What you're suggesting is using a fingerprint from a crime scene, matching it to a known criminal, and then using that to find the persons relatives. That doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. If the fingerprint matches, you know your criminal. If it doesn't, you've got to keep investigating. Who they're related to isn't exactly important.

      In this case we're talking about casting suspicion over people simply because their DNA is close to someone else's- that's frightening.
      • by rtb61 (674572)
        Now add to that the real danger of DNA being a silver bullet. How many hairs have you lost, do you know where they have all ended up? Have you used tissues in a public space and carelessly failed to keep track of the discard. Next time you spit consider where it might end up.

        Now as it turns out suspicion does not fall on family members with near matches but on untested family members. So if you are the one family member with a near match, they do not pursue you but they pursue all your untested relatives

    • Re:Hard to say... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by v1 (525388) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:46PM (#23215996) Homepage Journal
      What they're doing here is when they have only DNA evidence, and can find a close match, then the basic idea is that they want to make any of those close matches "suspects". Not suspect of committing the crime, but suspect of being related to the actual perp.

      How would you like a detective knocking on your door and wanting to discuss your immediate relatives, looking for leads on a case he's working on?

      "we have reason to believe that one of your relatives committed a crime, care to answer a few questions?"

      Now lets say it was a really close match and now they would like to DNA test your kid to see if he's a 100% match? (with no other evidence than this close match) If you allow that, then where do we draw the line? Not so close? Can we DNA test all your cousins? We're sure one of them's the one we're looking for!

    • easy to see... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by globaljustin (574257)
      This is more than a 21st century equivalent of fingerprint matching because DNA contains so much more information than fingerprints.

      Law enforcement will try to use a familial DNA match found at a crime scene as probable cause for a search warrant. It will happen. There are several scenarios. Imagine you have two brothers and you live in the same town, and brother 1 has been convicted of armed robbery. DNA at the crime scene of another robbery with a similar location to brother 1's first armed robbery is
      • by Nutria (679911)
        A DA or detective would love to be able to use that as probable cause for a search warrant of your house and brother 2's house as well.

        If my county's DA did not try for such search warrants, then he would be negligent in his duties.

        • Re:easy to see... (Score:4, Informative)

          by sedmonds (94908) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @11:31PM (#23219552) Homepage
          Except that he does not have probable cause to believe that both warrants would yield results. This is comparable to getting search warrants for everyone in the county named John, if one masked bandit in a robbery is referred to by another as "John".
          • well put, the parent to your post just doesn't get the idea of civil rights being a GOOD thing....
          • by Nutria (679911)
            Except that he does not have probable cause to believe that both warrants would yield results. This is comparable to getting search warrants for everyone in the county named John, if one masked bandit in a robbery is referred to by another as "John".

            Hogwash.

            Since I have a very common name, and have often had phone calls (including from police!) from people looking for different people with my same name, I am acutely aware of this problem. Unfortunately for your argument, this is referring to familial DNA f
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If they ever bring this to Ontario, anyone adopted is on safe ground! The records are illegal to release, even to the point of denying access to updated medical information. I can't be fingered this way, since it's illegal for the government to tell me who my adopted parents are, therefore, it's illegal to use the information in a court case.

    I never thought there'd be a bright side to that...
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @05:22PM (#23217164) Homepage Journal
      to your personal freedom because regardless of what a law says today it can become a whole different thing tomorrow. Suddenly all that information on you that was supposed secure is now available to parties who have a need to know, all in the vein of "its for the children", "terrorist are lurking", "for increased safety"... and so on.

      Never believe anything in the government vaults is safe because leaders change and so do laws
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I wanted to say exactly the same. Even if you foolishly trust your authorities not to abuse your DNA data now - remember that it will persist for the rest of your lifetime. And the lifetime of your children, and your children's children...

        Can you be sure that in all this time there won't be another government where, say, Sippenhaft [wikipedia.org] will be considered a legitimate tool again? Or, with all your citizen's DNA in a database it'll be easier than ever before to screen for certain 'types'. NO political power can p
  • by mfnickster (182520) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:03PM (#23216122)
    "You can have my DNA when you extract it from my cold, dead hand!"

    Oh, wait...
    • by rthille (8526)
      The trouble is, I already have your DNA...or I might. It's not like you don't leave it everywhere you go...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854)

      The most distressing part of all this is that the citizens of the United States have come to love liberty so little that when a agent of the state wants to fuck them with a sample swab, wants to remove a part of their living body, they won't fight.

      Can you imaging the response of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington to the government demanding tributes of flesh from citizens?

      The sovereignty of the government ends at my skin. You want a DNA sample? Get a warrant and see what you dead skin you can find in

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @07:28PM (#23217892) Journal
    Some of the "family" members won't be. They'll uncover the fact that there is no biological link to one or the other parent and/or siblings, even when divorce and remarriage is not involved. They'll find that some births occur outside the relationship otherwise thought to be what's general considered "legitimate". Bringing this fact to light will be a violation of the privacy of the suspect and/or family members, particularly since this fact will have nothing to do with the investigation. In order to pursue the case based on this evidence, they'll have to conduct this violation. If not prevented, it will provide precedent for similar violations that are not directly related to otherwise valid investigations.

    Worse still is when the fact of "legitimacy" is then used to judge the person(s) in entirely separate venues, such as job related security background checks conducted on the otherwise innocent family members. Although society may change and the "legitimacy" question cease to matter as much as it used to, others will hang on longer and tighter, such as in this example, where the employers will view it more negatively than the population because they'll be looking for the potential problems, and pursue them on this basis "just in case".
    • by CMF Risk (833574)

      Worse still is when the fact of "legitimacy" is then used to judge the person(s) in entirely separate venues, such as job related security background checks conducted on the otherwise innocent family members. Although society may change and the "legitimacy" question cease to matter as much as it used to, others will hang on longer and tighter, such as in this example, where the employers will view it more negatively than the population because they'll be looking for the potential problems, and pursue them on this basis "just in case".

      How about when a particularly horrible crime goes unsolved, yet the authorities say it was commited by someone with "similar" DNA to you/your family?

      Im sure that will go over well with potential employers, the public, significant others, or anyone else.

  • by jamstar7 (694492) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @08:06PM (#23218144)
    OK, why does this sound like genetic profiling to find 'people with criminal genes' to me?
  • by JetScootr (319545) on Monday April 28, 2008 @06:57AM (#23221698) Journal
    My concern is localized optima in what the public thinks of as nearly 'random' data. Consider a community of 20-40 thousand that is economically and culturally semi-isolated. Like a farming town - or a city ghetto. Yes, a ghetto in the middle of a city of millions can be semi-isolated genetically. How many people who can afford to live elsewhere will go to the poorest part of town to find a mate? How many people living there are able to get their "genes" out of the ghetto? After 100 years, just how 'rare' are the genetic markers found inside that community? (Some of these places have been that way since the civil war!)
    Any sort of study to find the answer would have very loud political repercussions, thus is unlikely to ever be done (or been done - we'dve heard about it).
    The odds may be millions when compared to the entire polpulation of a region, but can not be known without mapping the genetic clustering. The numbers may be much, much lower inside genetic clusters.
    Without knowing how to account for genetic clustering and localized optima, the actual rarity of genetic markers in a specific case can not be known. And the difference will always favor the police by producing false positives.
    After a few years of collecting DNA from the poorest, the police may be able to link any crime with someone in that community if 'familial' relationships are used as indicators. I've never seen *any* comment in articles about forensic DNA testing that discusses this. Which is why, if on a jury, I will almost certainly disregard any DNA evidence.

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