CSI Daycare?

Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie on December 5th, 2006

Neither Andy Griffith nor Matlock needed forensic science to solve their crimes in less than an hour. But high tech crime dramas like Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and Law and Order often delve into forensics’ minutia in order to catch today’s primetime crooks. This is not without effect; lawyers and police officers across the country have become increasingly distraught over these shows’ tendency to reveal enough crime lab techniques to raise juries’ expectations and show criminals how not to get caught.

But a recent MSNBC news story suggests that pop forensic science is going beyond teaching would-be felons to wipe down crime scenes with Clorox and creating a new generation of “CSI parents.” Using kits that are available online, at police stations, or at doctors’ offices, parents are swabbing their children’s cheeks and banking their DNA on the off chance that it will help in their rescue or identification in the event of abduction.

Even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children seems to be skeptical of preemptively bringing forensics to parenting. This, however, has not stopped private companies from trying to make a dime off of people’s fears. A growing DNA-solves-all culture combined with several high profile child kidnappings (e.g. Natalee Halloway and Elizabeth Smart) has given birth to new markets in genetic fingerprinting that encourage parents to think like detectives.

Keeping a copy of your daughter’s DNA with her fingerprints may ultimately end up being a benign gesture. But what’s troubling is that unlike the thumb prints I took as a kindergartener in the 80s, an increasing number of these genetic samples are centrally stored in FBI labs next to samples from sex offenders, murderers, and other convicted felons. It’s entirely unclear whether these children’s samples are scanned each time the databases are used to find a crime scene match. It’s even less clear what happens to the samples when these children become adults. What is clear, however, is that given governments’ inclination towards keeping DNA samples indefinitely, parents should be as vigilant of their children’s privacy as they are of their safety.

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Posted in DNA Forensics, Osagie Obasogie's Blog Posts, Research Cloning, Sequencing & Genomics


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