DNA forensic analysis soon will be ‘vastly more powerful’—good for crime fighting, problematic for privacy

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Genetic sleuthing techniques that led to the arrest of a suspect in the infamous Golden State Killer case this year are set to become vastly more powerful, suggest two papers published [October 11].

The studies conclude that it could soon be possible to search crime-scene DNA for links to nearly all Americans of European descent, massively expanding the potential reach of an existing forensic genetic database. The results also raise urgent privacy issues.

To study the potential of these searches, [Yaniv] Erlich’s team analysed private, anonymized DNA profiles from 1.28 million MyHeritage customers. Like other consumer genetics firms, the company allows customers to search for relatives who share DNA segments inherited from a common ancestor, such as a great-great-grandparent.

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[Noah] Rosenberg’s team developed a computational method to cross-match [genetic FBI] profiles with a close relative’s SNP profile (the test used by most consumer genetics companies and available for searching on GEDmatch).

The lack of regulation surrounding such searches is striking, says Rori Rohlfs, a statistical geneticist at San Francisco State University in California who has written about the ethics of familial searching. She can imagine policymakers limiting when and how law-enforcement agencies can use public databases such as GEDmatch.

Some such restrictions already exist. In California, for example, law-enforcement forensic databases can be used to find family members only in serious crimes where there is a risk to public safety.

Read full, original post: Supercharged crime-scene DNA analysis sparks privacy concerns

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