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About DNA Forensics


DNA technologies have radically reshaped the role of forensics in police work. Even small amounts of blood, saliva, or other biological materials left at a crime scene can now lead to the identification or elimination of a suspect. Genetic evidence has been used both to convict perpetrators and to exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted on less reliable evidence, including scores of people on death row.

DNA typing is typically quite accurate when used to tell whether an unknown sample matches another sample that has already been identified. This is not to say that this process is without problems; simple human error, sample contamination, and misinterpretations have been known to skew results.

The development of forensic DNA databases--in which hundreds of thousands of profiles are stored with the intention of catching recidivists--has given rise to new sets of problems such as miscalculations of the statistical probability that an unknown sample coincidentally matches a stored profile. In some cases, what are touted as rare "one-in-a-million" odds of being a coincidental match are actually significantly more likely once other relevant factors (such as database size) are taken into consideration. Such information has, on occasion, not been revealed to juries.

Nevertheless, the compilation of DNA databases has been increasing dramatically. In many jurisdictions, both in the US and abroad (especially in the UK), they now include people who may have been arrested for but never convicted of a crime. This raises privacy issues in addition to issues of racial discrimination since minorities have disproportionately higher contact with police and are therefore overrepresented in these databases.


Bill to Have All Russians Fingerprinted and DNA Profiled Submitted to ParliamentRussia TodayNovember 19th, 2014MPs from the populist nationalist party LDPR have prepared and drafted a motion requiring universal fingerprinting and DNA profiling of all Russian citizens for reasons of security.
Discrimination Based on Genetics Could Soon be Illegal, and it’s Right on Timeby William Wolfe-WylieCanada.comNovember 18th, 2014As personalized genetic testing hits the mainstream, what companies do with that information is of growing concern.
New DNA Analysis Could Provide Complete Description of a Suspectby Theodore DeckerThe Columbus DispatchNovember 2nd, 2014The next generation of DNA forensics will reveal a level of detail far beyond what currently is used in criminal investigations. Presented with only a person’s DNA, “I can tell exactly what you look like,” one analyst said.
The FBI Wants Speedy DNA Analysis Added To Its Biometric Dragnetby Tim CushingTechDirtSeptember 30th, 2014It appears the FBI isn't satisfied with the wealth of biometric information it already has access to. It's grabbed everything external it can possibly get. Now, it's coming for what's inside you.
DNA Samples Stir Doubts but Police Detectives Find Them Invaluable by Natasha RobinsonThe AustralianSeptember 29th, 2014Genes on the thin blue line: despite doubts about aspects of DNA capture, police see it as invaluable.
Criminals Could Appeal After Home Office Admits Potentially Misleading DNA Evidence Presented to Juriesby Keith PerryThe Telegraph [UK]September 23rd, 2014A leading forensic expert warns that subjective interpretations of DNA evidence are potentially biased and unscientific.
FBI Plans Rapid DNA Dragnetby Aliya SternsteinNextgovSeptember 23rd, 2014The FBI is preparing to accelerate the collection of DNA profiles for the government's massive new biometric identification database.
Judge warns privacy of DNA at stake after rulingby Ian DuncanThe Baltimore SunAugust 30th, 2014As Maryland's highest court upheld a rape conviction based on DNA collected at a police station, a veteran judge issued a stark warning about the consequences of the ruling.
"We're All One of Troy's Babies": A Celebration of Troy Dusterby Victoria Massie, Biopolitical Times guest contributorAugust 21st, 2014On Friday, August 15th, I was one among a multitude of people finding a seat in Booth Auditorium at UC Berkeley Law School for the event “Celebrating Troy Duster.”
Troy Duster’s Garden of Plugged-In Scholarship, and How it Grewby Barry BergmanNewsCenterAugust 20th, 2014An overview of the CGS co-sponsored event to honor Troy Duster's landmark works on the racial implications of drug policies and genetic research, his role as adviser and friend, and his fierce activism.
Questions Raised Over DNA Evidence to Secure Murder Convictionsby Candice MarcusABCAugust 13th, 2014A High Court ruling that DNA evidence was not enough to convict a man of murder could have wider implications on DNA convictions across Australia.
In Search for Killer, DNA Sweep Exposes Intimate Family Secrets in Italyby Elisabetta PovoledoThe New York TimesJuly 26th, 2014In the absence of other evidence, investigators embarked on the country’s largest DNA dragnet, taking genetic samples from nearly 22,000 people.
Thousands of Scots Children Have Their DNA Stored on Police DatabaseSTVJuly 15th, 2014More than 35,000 DNA profiles of under-18s are stored on police computers. 251 of them from youngsters 13 and under, including two ten-year-olds.
Vermont High Court Decides Against State DNA Lawby Beth GarbitelliPortland Press HeraldJuly 12th, 2014Collection at arraignment violates a defendant’s right to privacy. “Your entire genome doesn’t become the property of the state merely because you’ve been charged with a crime,” a defense attorney said.
About That Creepy Biometric Database, FBI, We'd Like to Know a Bit Moreby J.D. TuccilleReasonJune 26th, 2014The FBI's facial recognition database, into which it wants to put 52 million of our mugs by the end of 2015, is only part of its larger Next Generation Identification program.
Forensic Science Isn’t Scienceby Mark Joseph SternSlateJune 11th, 2014Far from an infallible science, forensics is a decades-long experiment in which undertrained lab workers jettison the scientific method in favor of speedy results that fit prosecutors’ hunches.
CRG Led Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative Publishes Article in the Egyptian Journal of Forensic Scienceby JeegCouncil for Responsible GeneticsJune 9th, 2014Some safeguards are implemented at the national or regional level for DNA databases but there is an ongoing lack of global standards and a need for more societal engagement and debate.
How Does Bias Affect Forensics Experts?by Bettina ChangPacific StandardJune 5th, 2014Studies have shown that forensics experts (such as fingerprint and DNA analysts) can be swayed by a variety of factors, including cognitive bias, time pressure, and expectations.
The Genome's Big Data Problemby Joseph CoxMother BoardJune 4th, 2014Serious concerns around genetic data need to be handled before we all jump on the genome band wagon. How will the data be stored? Who will be able to access it? What security will be in place?
Genetics In Court Is a Very Messy Businessby Alexandra SifferlinTimeJune 4th, 2014Courts may soon face the challenge of determining whether genetics can be linked to criminal behavior.
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