Whenever people question me throwing my genotype into the public domain I express the honest opinion that genetic transparency is only a matter of time, and that the government will have all this stuff on file at some point within the next 10 years in any case. I’ve talked about the utilization of the DNA of one family member to catch another before. This is particularly useful because criminal activity tends to be elevated in some families vs. others. California is now pushing ahead with this method, State to double crime searches using family DNA:
Although such genetic sleuthing, known as familial searching, remains controversial — California is one of only three states that permit the technique — Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has increased the budget to double the number of such searches and reduce a DNA backlog.
“California is on the cutting edge of this in many ways,” Harris, who replaced Jerry Brown as the state’s top law enforcement officer in January, said in an interview last week. “I think we are going to be a model for the country. I really do.”
California’s early success with familial searching — it led to the arrest of the suspect in the Grim Sleeper serial killings last summer — has spurred calls for using the science to trace criminals nationwide. Virginia recently joined California and Colorado in permitting such searches.
I’d bet that the discussion of whether this should be done is now a moot point. Rather, the question is going to be the scope and nature of implementation.
I already blogged this general issue, but the ‘grim sleeper’ murderer was caught because of a match of old samples with those of us his son. If I had to bet money I think this sort of result (California and Colorado are the two American states which have a system in place to allow for this) is going to allow for a push toward more widespread usage of the technique. It may be that we need to stop talking about privacy as if we can put off the inevitable future, and start talking about accuracy and precision with the data that is going to be easily available to authorities. By the way, I found this objection somewhat strange:
“I can imagine lots of African-American families would think it is not fair to put a disproportionate number of black families under permanent genetic surveillance,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who has written about this issue.
A disproportionate number of black families have relatives incarcerated. The American public does not seem particular worried about that. As I noted before, criminal behavior is not randomly distributed across families. Rather, there are distinct clusters, so familial genetic data is going to be more efficacious than you would expect if the commission of crime consisted of a sequence of independent events.
I have to add that worries about this technology strike me as a bit rich, in light of the fact that methods which are proven to be highly subjective and often inaccurate, such as fingerprinting and eyewitness identification, are accepted in the criminal justice system. I worry about what the state could do with DNA data if the state became malevolent, but despite its flaws it seems to me far preferable as a means of assessing evidence than some of the “tried & true” techniques. So let’s keep some perspective.