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posted by martyb on Monday July 01 2019, @10:39AM   Printer-friendly
from the https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C3RrvZMx-M dept.

Genetic genealogy — in which DNA samples are used to find relatives of suspects, and eventually the suspects themselves — has redefined the cutting edge of forensic science, solving the type of cases that haunt detectives most: the killing of a schoolteacher 27 years ago, an assault on a 71-year-old church organ player, the rape and murder of dozens of California residents by a man who became known as the Golden State Killer.

But until a trial this month in the 1987 murder of a young Canadian couple, it had never been tested in court. Whether genetic genealogy would hold up was one of the few remaining questions for police departments and prosecutors still weighing its use, even as others have rushed to apply it. On Friday, the jury returned a guilty verdict.

“There is no stopping genetic genealogy now,” said CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist whose work led to the arrest in the murder case. “I think it will become a regular, accepted part of law enforcement investigations.”

Detective James H. Scharf of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in Washington State took all of six minutes on the stand to describe how a semen sample collected from one of the victim’s clothing led to two second cousins of the suspect, and then to the name of the man on trial, William Talbott II.

The defense could have challenged the use of genetic genealogy on privacy grounds, or as a violation of people’s right to control their personal data. Instead, defense lawyers did not pose a single question about the technique. After more than two days of deliberation, the jury convicted Mr. Talbott on two counts of murder.

Mr. Talbott’s lawyers said they viewed genetic genealogy as just another way of generating investigative leads. “Police have always used a variety of things to develop tips,” said Rachel Forde, a public defender, in an interview. The brother of one of the victims had even consulted a psychic at one point, she said.

But if the case quelled some investigators’ concerns, it was not likely to put to rest a raging debate over the ethics of using the technique to solve crimes and how to balance privacy with the demands of law enforcement.

Just during the time Mr. Talbott spent awaiting trial, genealogy databases have changed their rules about cooperating in criminal investigations, and then changed them again. Cordial forums for genealogists have erupted into vicious battlefields. And the technique, once reserved for rape and murder cases gone vexingly cold, has been applied in less serious, more recent crimes, raising alarm among privacy advocates and long-time users of family history databases.

“We’re currently in a state of flux,” said Blaine Bettinger, a genetic genealogist and lawyer. “There is no guidance from any direction.”

[...] Long before an arrest in the Golden State Killer case in April 2018 made genetic genealogy famous, a small group of experts knew that identifying suspects in criminal cases was possible. But they were divided over whether it was ethically acceptable.

The group — some call them the “genealogy influencers” — debated the issues on blogs and in private forums. Each member has a claim to fame: the first to help an adoptee find her biological mother, the first to identify a body, the first to find a killer’s full name.

One school of thought holds that if users join an easily searchable site, they should not expect to maintain control over how their information is used, and that criminal investigations serve the greater good. Another says that people deserve to be able to make informed decisions about how their DNA — the most personal of personal information — is used.

Read the full story at The New York Times


Original Submission

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Politics: DNA Databases in the U.S. and China are Tools of Racial Oppression 166 comments

DNA Databases in the U.S. and China Are Tools of Racial Oppression

Two major world powers, the United States and China, have both collected an enormous number of DNA samples from their citizens, the premise being that these samples will help solve crimes that might have otherwise gone unsolved. While DNA evidence can often be crucial when it comes to determining who committed a crime, researchers argue these DNA databases also pose a major threat to human rights.

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a DNA database called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) that currently contains over 14 million DNA profiles. This database has a disproportionately high number of profiles of black men, because black Americans are arrested five times as much as white Americans. You don't even have to be convicted of a crime for law enforcement to take and store your DNA; you simply have to have been arrested as a suspect.

[...] As for China, a report that was published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in mid-June claims that China is operating the "world's largest police-run DNA database" as part of its powerful surveillance state. Chinese authorities have collected DNA samples from possibly as many as 70 million men since 2017, and the total database is believed to contain as many as 140 million profiles. The country hopes to collect DNA from all of its male citizens, as it argues men are most likely to commit crimes.

DNA is reportedly often collected during what are represented as free physicals, and it's also being collected from children at schools. There are reports of Chinese citizens being threatened with punishment by government officials if they refuse to give a DNA sample. Much of the DNA that's been collected has been from Uighur Muslims that have been oppressed by the Chinese government and infamously forced into concentration camps in the Xinjiang province.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @10:42AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @10:42AM (#861870)

    My father and. brother decided to contribute their DNA to one of these sites to "help humanity". I guess when the police are out of suspects I can expect a knock on the door..

  • (Score: 2) by Chocolate on Monday July 01 2019, @10:44AM (7 children)

    by Chocolate (8044) on Monday July 01 2019, @10:44AM (#861871) Journal

    How soon until they are publically required to cut a copy of their data to the police or will this be another fertile ground from which parallel construction will spring?

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    • (Score: 2) by Username on Monday July 01 2019, @11:47AM (2 children)

      by Username (4557) on Monday July 01 2019, @11:47AM (#861877)

      Just start swabbing random toilet seats and sending them in to different dna companies with your name.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday July 01 2019, @02:35PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday July 01 2019, @02:35PM (#861941) Journal

        They will eventually get wise to this, and start cross checking with each other.

        Probably some new law will be created to criminalize submitting mislabeled dna data. Maybe require a national, no world database of dna data at birth.

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      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday July 01 2019, @02:54PM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Monday July 01 2019, @02:54PM (#861958) Journal

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_Clip [wikipedia.org]

        Get vax'd = get van'd.

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    • (Score: 2) by Farkus888 on Monday July 01 2019, @12:37PM (1 child)

      by Farkus888 (5159) on Monday July 01 2019, @12:37PM (#861890)

      The question is why did they need 2 different parallel constructions? That is the entire point of a psychic to police. It was done. Why bother pretending that 2 different ~4% DNA matches gets them close enough to find 1 specific person.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by looorg on Monday July 01 2019, @12:59PM

        by looorg (578) on Monday July 01 2019, @12:59PM (#861900)

        One could assume that DNA-testing sounded a lot better, and more scientific, to a jury compared to getting a reading from a Psychic.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by DannyB on Monday July 01 2019, @02:33PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday July 01 2019, @02:33PM (#861940) Journal

      How soon until they are publically required to cut a copy of their data to the police

      Ignoring your (unquoted) point about parallel construction; the widespread use of genetic databases would reveal all kinds of dirty little secrets. The rich and powerful are just as likely as the poor to have lots of family secrets if it were easy to genetically identify the true parents of everyone. But in this case it would involve property rights, inheritance, contested wills, and many lawsuits. Political scandals. In other countries, it will reveal misbehavior in arranged marriages. Or that the person you married was not what you were promised. Etc. etc.

      Prediction: Lawyers (as a profession, not individually) will favor widespread use of genetic data.

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      • (Score: 2) by Chocolate on Thursday July 11 2019, @02:56AM

        by Chocolate (8044) on Thursday July 11 2019, @02:56AM (#865640) Journal

        I started caring about this when I learned that members of my family have submitted data to these places.
        Yes. The lawyers always win.

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by MrGuy on Monday July 01 2019, @11:53AM (4 children)

    by MrGuy (1007) on Monday July 01 2019, @11:53AM (#861879)

    But until a trial this month in the 1987 murder of a young Canadian couple, it had never been tested in court. Whether genetic genealogy would hold up was one of the few remaining questions for police departments and prosecutors still weighing its use

    ...

    The defense could have challenged the use of genetic genealogy on privacy grounds, or as a violation of people’s right to control their personal data. Instead, defense lawyers did not pose a single question about the technique.

    IANAL, but I do no a little about how precedent works in the US.

    In the US system, legal precedent isn’t established by whether a jury (the finder of fact) considered certain evidence legally before them persuasive. The fact that 12 ordinary citizens found this evidence convincing in one particular case is INTERESTING. But it’s not precedent. No future jury is bound to do the same.

    What establishes precedent is rulings of law by a judge, generally on a briefed and argued motion, most persuasively when considered and upheld on appeal. But there’s no such ruling here. The defense chose not to raise the issue. Which means there was no ruling. And there can be no appeal on that point - you can’t raise arguments for the first time on appeal. (In this case, it’s theoretically possible for the defendant to argue his lawyers failure to raise this point was so egregious as to rise to being deprived of effective counsel, but that’s a huge hill to climb).

    Without an argument on the point, with no ruling, and no appeal, there’s zero legal precedent here. There’s nothing about this case someone can seize on and use to convince a different court that this evidence SHOUKD be considered admissible. While, as someone very concerned about the privacy implications here, I’m disappointed by this, this case doesn’t keep me up at night. The technology isn’t “tested in court” by this case, and the implication otherwise is ignorant.

    Oh, and one more thing. This quote:

    “There is no stopping genetic genealogy now,” said CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist whose work led to the arrest in the murder case. “I think it will become a regular, accepted part of law enforcement investigations.”

    Often a reporter will quote a legal expert on legal issues of precedent. Here, they quote a member of the prosecution team, and someone who has a strong professional stake in this being true. He’s an incredibly biased person to quote, and while they disclose his position, to quote a highly biased party at that point in the article (where they discuss the notion of “tested in court”) feels like very sloppy (or deliberately sensationalist) journalism to me.

    • (Score: 1) by shrewdsheep on Monday July 01 2019, @02:00PM (3 children)

      by shrewdsheep (5215) on Monday July 01 2019, @02:00PM (#861922)

      Thanks, you answered a question of mine that immediately came up. Now, assume the question would have been brought up, wouldn't it still be the jury that would decide on the matter? What would be the role of the judge in this case? What is the definition of a "ruling of law by a judge"?

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by MrGuy on Monday July 01 2019, @03:22PM (2 children)

        by MrGuy (1007) on Monday July 01 2019, @03:22PM (#861976)

        WHETHER something is admissible is a legal question that a judge determines, not a jury.

        One question is whether this evidence is admissible at all, or does it violate the defendant's rights? In relevant example, the defendant might argue that doing what's effectively a DNA match by proxy is an unconstitutional search violating the 4th amendment. There are arguments to be made that the police should be required to meet the same legal standard they'd need to meet to get a court to order blood drawn from the defendant to do a DNA test in order to present such evidence. There are counterarguments that the defendant has no right to object to a search of someone else's DNA, since his wasn't actually "searched." The way this would happen is that the defense would raise a motion in limine [wikipedia.org] before the trial to request a ruling on whether the evidence in question is considered lawfully obtained.

        For scientific testimony, there's a second avenue other than whether the evidence is lawfully obstained to consider. The defense could also file a special kind of motion in limine called a Daubert motion [wikipedia.org] before the trial begins to ask for a hearing in front of a judge on whether certain scientific evidence is considered proven and reliable before it can be presented to the jury. The Daubert standard is designed to keep pseudoscience or questionable, unproven methods out of court. This would be the place to make arguments on whether genetic profiling via relatives is accurate and reliable, or whether the DNA databases kept by the testing companies are well controlled and reliable enough to be considered accurate records. This would likely be a hearing before the judge where experts are called by both sides to argue whether the science is good.

        In all cases, this would be a ruling by a judge. The attorneys would cite the relevant legal standards, possibly expert testimony, and related rulings on this or other similar matters that they think are relevant to the legal standard. This is why precedent matters - if a certain type of evidence has been admitted multiple times in Daubert hearings, it gets harder and harder to argue it's not scientifically accurate. Or, if the constitutional argument has been raised elsewhere, and a relevant appellate court or supreme court has upheld the ruling, it's really hard to overcome the weight of that precedent, unless you can make a clearly different argument or your case is clearly distinct in relevant ways from the preceding case.

        In all these cases, the judge decides, because (again) admissiblity is a legal question, not a factual one.

        If the evidence is considered admissible, that still doesn't mean the jury will rely on it as factual. Both sides can present arguments at trial on whether the science should be considered reliable, whether it could be contaminated, or how it could be interpreted. As with all evidence, it's up to the jury to decide whether they consider it persuasive, and how to weigh it against other evidence. But whether a jury convicts on the evidence isn't something that has weight.

        • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Monday July 01 2019, @04:44PM (1 child)

          by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Monday July 01 2019, @04:44PM (#862036) Journal

          One question is whether this evidence is admissible at all, or does it violate the defendant's rights? In relevant example, the defendant might argue that doing what's effectively a DNA match by proxy is an unconstitutional search violating the 4th amendment. There are arguments to be made that the police should be required to meet the same legal standard they'd need to meet to get a court to order blood drawn from the defendant to do a DNA test in order to present such evidence.

          While I appreciate (and mostly agree with) your summary of how this case doesn't appear to establish legal precedent, I really don't understand this argument. How could it possibly be an "invasion of privacy" to look at someone else's DNA? The relative in question in this case (a second cousin) had voluntarily uploaded genetic data to a free public DNA database. What could possibly bar the police from searching said database in hope of a lead? I can understand requiring a warrant for police to be able to do a search on PRIVATE genetic records, but this stuff was on a public website.

          An analogy: distinctive handwriting patterns sometimes run in families. (I don't know how common this is, but it happens.) Suppose some people voluntarily uploaded photos of some of their own writing to the internet. Suppose one of them has a distinctive shape to some capital letter (perhaps an initial for a family name). Suppose police do some sort of Google search or an image search and find this distinctive initial. They discover a brother or parent or some other close relation to the person who wrote this and uploaded this lives in the area around a murder where a note was found. Police find some writing from that person in the trash, and it is an exact match.

          Assuming the final obtaining of the trash was legal, why would this NOT be admissible in court? How would it be a privacy violation to do an internet search looking at other people's voluntarily uploaded handwriting? (Granted, handwriting matches are more questionable than DNA, but let's set that aside; I'm just making an imperfect analogy.)

          I'm not saying I like this development, but I can see perfectly why defense wouldn't even object to this genetic evidence. As far as I can see, there's absolutely no reasonable legal basis for excluding it, other than perhaps a scientific query on the reliability and statistics of the method. But that almost doesn't matter, as the investigators ultimately collected actual DNA from a cup that fell off the suspect's truck. Honestly, I don't even see how the genetic genealogy stuff is even that relevant to the legal case for conviction, except as trivia about the police's investigative techniques (which they are usually allowed wide latitude for in coming up with a potential list of suspects).

          There are other issues brought up at the end of TFA that would be more objectionable. For example, the online DNA database in question later changed its terms of service to prohibit such blanket searching by law enforcement (except in certain situations, under certain conditions, with opt-in from submitters). If the police violated said terms of service (which again, wouldn't be relevant in this case, as there were no such terms of service when the police did their search), there could be legal questions. If the police made use of criminal DNA databases, which consist of many samples often taken without permission and definitely not intended to be shared publicly, there would definitely be serious legal issues.

          But doing a search of data on a public website, using data voluntarily uploaded by people who wanted to share it publicly? How is there possibly a legal issue with that?

          • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Monday July 01 2019, @04:53PM

            by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Monday July 01 2019, @04:53PM (#862049) Journal

            And just to be clear -- as I said, I do NOT like this development. IANAL either, but I just don't see how it could reasonably be outside the current accepted bounds for legal admissibility. Perhaps a law could be passed to limit or curtail the way such evidence is used or obtained, but without a new law, the main objection I'd foresee would only be on grounds of reliability and methodology. The privacy objection seems a red herring to me when the method solely involves examining information from OTHER people.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by bzipitidoo on Monday July 01 2019, @12:32PM

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Monday July 01 2019, @12:32PM (#861887) Journal

    Great, another reason to hate genealogists.

    Genealogy has always been a tricky area to study. The basic problem is that many people have skeletons in the closet. They don't want any evidence of marital infidelity, out of wedlock births, or other things to leak out, and to insure it doesn't they readily demonize genealogists as nosy and weird. If pressed, they'll lie. Claim that the parents of a baby were married before conception occurred, claim that the husband is the father when he's not, and so on.

    Church doctrine has never aligned with real human behavior. This whole idea of marriage for life is not in fact the human way. A finding from the 1940s is that 10% of the babies in the maternity ward were fathered by a man other than the husband. The 1940s was still a relatively socially conservative time. It was far from 17th century The Scarlet Letter level of moralizing and hypocrisy, but still plenty conservative. The researchers were trying to determine something else, some sort of genetic susceptibility to diseases, not paternity, but their methods couldn't help but reveal that too. However, they kept the paternity findings secret. They were afraid no one would participate if the paternity info got out. Many decades later, that part was finally revealed. Further paternity studies have shown rates of infidelity ranging from 5% to a whopping 30%.

    Defense of Marriage indeed.

  • (Score: 2) by looorg on Monday July 01 2019, @01:07PM (3 children)

    by looorg (578) on Monday July 01 2019, @01:07PM (#861902)

    One school of thought holds that if users join an easily searchable site, they should not expect to maintain control over how their information is used ...

    In all the three listed cases they did not find the actual suspect via the genealogy sites. In all the cases they found a some form of relative and worked their way back from there. So your privacy can/will/could get fucked over by just having one idiot relative sending in for a testing. They might not care about their privacy but the rest of their very extended family might. If such things shouldn't matter then one might just create one giant DNA-database of the entire population and get it over with. This just seem like one tiny little step so why not just go full out.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @02:47PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @02:47PM (#861952)

      one might just create one giant DNA-database of the entire population and get it over with. This just seem like one tiny little step so why not just go full out.

      Way ahead of you: https://www.aclu.org/other/newborn-dna-banking [aclu.org]

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @11:19PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01 2019, @11:19PM (#862198)

        NSW Australia collects a blood sample from babies and keeps the sample for years

        • (Score: 2) by looorg on Wednesday July 03 2019, @01:22PM

          by looorg (578) on Wednesday July 03 2019, @01:22PM (#862694)

          A lot of countries does that. It's been going on since the 60's or 70's. But they are not DNA-registers, they are blood sample biobanks. They could be turned into or act as a base for them, DNA-registers, if needed. But at the current state they are not. They are usually also covered by a fairly solid wall of rules of usage that prevents such things.

  • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Monday July 01 2019, @04:14PM

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Monday July 01 2019, @04:14PM (#862008) Journal

    There have been many cases recently where the lab just returned the results the police wanted. This needs to be repaired pronto. Currently I wouldn't accept genetic evidence as a juror...and it's not because I don't believe the science is valid. There needs to be a "Chinese wall" between the police, the prosecution, and the forensics people.

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