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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday April 03 2019, @11:14PM   Printer-friendly
from the privacy-policies-are-for-suckers dept.

Submitted via IRC for chromas

FamilyTreeDNA Deputizes Itself, Starts Pitching DNA Matching Services To Law Enforcement

One DNA-matching company has decided it's going to corner an under-served market: US law enforcement. FamilyTreeDNA -- last seen here opening up its database to the FBI without informing its users first -- is actively pitching its services to law enforcement.

The television spot, to air in San Diego first, asks anyone who has had a direct-to-consumer DNA test from another company, like 23andMe or, to upload a copy so that law enforcement can spot any connections to DNA found at crime scenes.

The advertisement features Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City teen who was abducted in 2002 but later found alive. “If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test, your help can provide the missing link,” he says in the spot.

Welcome to FamilyTreeDNA's cooperating witness program -- one it profits from by selling information customers give it to law enforcement. The tug at the heartstrings is a nice touch. FamilyTreeDNA is finally being upfront with users about its intentions for their DNA samples. This is due to its founder deciding -- without consulting his customers -- that they're all as willing as he is to convert your DNA samples into public goods.

Bennett Greenspan, the firm’s founder, said he had decided he had a moral obligation to help solve old murders and rapes. Now he thinks that customers will agree and make their DNA available specifically to help out.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04 2019, @09:58AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04 2019, @09:58AM (#824408)

    You really don't get the outrage? You need it spelled out for you?

    DNA is not an exact science. In fact it is fraught with all kinds of errors and shenanigans. [] [] []

    But even if it were an exact science, and even if you could get these unlicensed and unregulated labs to somehow adhere to the best possible practices in every test they run, the idea that you can create a giant database and search it in this way suffers from the prosecutors fallacy. []

    Let me break it down for you in case you slept through statistics 101.

    Every type of test has 2 errors rates, the false positive and the false negative.
    DNA tests are of a type that can only be used to exclude a person, not include them. So what you need to examine most closely is the false positive rate.
    Let's be super generous here and assume that they always follow best practices, the lab is always clean and sterile and they follow protocol perfectly. None of these are really to be expected from a consumer service meant to give you giggles about who your ancestors diddled for the low, low price of only $19.99. But let's assume they cleaned up their act.

    In a forensic lab, using the very best equipment a highly skilled and competent lab tech performing DNA testing can be up to 99.99% accurate meaning a false positive rate of only 0.01%

    Sounds great doesn't it?
    This means that out of 10,000 tests only 1 will result in a false positive.

    There are 250 Million people in the USA. Which means a best case false positive for only 2500 people if they tried to match everyone.
    But that is exactly what is happening here and worse. Each time someone submits a sample, they do compare it against all samples in their DB and the odds of a bad match are 0.01% meaning ~2500 people are included just by chance.

    The odds in this scenario do not relate to the odds of actually being guilty, they relate to the odds of being picked at random. While the odds of being picked at random may be low for an individual condition implying guilt, i.e. a positive DNA match between 2 samples processed by the same tech in the same lab with directed specific testing. The probability of being picked at random for any condition grows to 1 as more conditions are considered, as is the case in multiple testing or an indepth search of a wide database of questionable quality.

    So that 0.01% it quickly goes much higher to about 1%, just from those causes alone.

    These companies are going out as far as 5 degrees of separation in order to try and find any connection, no matter how tenuous. There are only 6 degrees of separation between you and any other human on earth. Meaning that whether the person being searched for is the Queen of England or Jack the Ripper, you have a connection to them.
    What this does is make every single person a suspect, because all positives are being considered no matter close or how far. So we go to 100% guaranteed they will find someone who is a reasonably close match.

    This wouldn't be so bad, except that companies are selling this service to law enforcement.
    It's one thing to find out that your daddy ain't your daddy but your daddy doesn't know, it's a whole other thing to be facing loss of freedom for up to the rest of your natural life, or even the death penalty over specious evidence.

    Law enforcement will bend over backwards in their interpretation of any result in order to secure a conviction.
    So they get a starting point from this service, then start working the family tree, getting samples from all 10,000 or so first, second, third, fourth and fifth degree relations...
    But this is assuming they will actually put in the leg work to start ruling out your entire haplotype group. The truth is they will simply grab the nearest person on the list that they have jurisdiction over and construct a reasonable scenario for the prosecutor from there.

    Therefore it might be your "pervy uncle", who was the real murderer (doubtful, but bear with me a minute), however it will be you who is captured and convicted. This is because the test relied on DNA in the first place and therefore there will be no way to rule you out based on DNA, since DNA is what looped you in, in the first place.

    This change of tactic from one of exclusion to one of inclusion, skews the results in such a way that Law Enforcement will be able to close many, many cases that were previously cold. However there will be a lot of innocent people locked away and/or placed on death row as a result, until judges come to their senses, are not baffled by this bullshit and start ruling that this method cannot be used even for probable cause purposes, let alone as evidence at trial.

    In short people are outraged because without their consent they have had their genetic information added to a database of suspects that can be searched at will be law enforcement who are doing anything they can to close cold cases and have the unlimited resources of the state backing them in order to secure a conviction.

    Congratulations! You are now a suspect in every single cold case murder and rape currently on some law enforcement agent's desk. I hope you know a good lawyer!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04 2019, @01:45PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04 2019, @01:45PM (#824479)

    Nice post, but there were 250 million people in the US like 25 years ago. Now there are around 330 million, and god knows how many more illegals.

    As for the odd uncle story, another reason the police could try to come after you, is if the uncle is dead already, but you they can still convict.