DNA analysis could revolutionize criminal justice

Cameras. Recordings. Video. Audio. Spit in a tube. DNA. Free access to your genetic profile. Does that violate the Fourth Amendment? Do you care? How far would you go for a crime-free America? 

When the Human Genome Project (HGP) began in 1990, research ethics dictated that the anonymity of the individual being mapped would forever remain a secret. So, following ethical protocol, hundreds of people offered their DNA to be mapped, and we will never know whose was actually chosen. The Human Genome Project was the greatest exploration into the make-up of humans. An international team took 13 years to complete sequencing and mapping of all the genes, which together, is known as the genome. 

Fast forward to the mid-2000s and everyone can spit in a tube and find out their ancestral origins and genetic profiles for about $100. Much like everything we see in technology around us, it is moving faster than laws, or sometimes, even humans can keep up. When we sent out our spit in a tube for fun, we exposed not only ourselves, but anyone sharing our DNA. For good or for bad, we can’t cover up what’s already been seen. Or can we?

A crime-free (or at least murder-free) America is not that far-fetched; our DNA could be the piece of the puzzle that solves every crime.”

When it comes to using genetic genealogy for crime-solving, it’s too late. According to The New York Times Magazine, “… the conundrum around the expanded use of genetic databases is philosophical as much as legal: It’s about how we can control something that is uniquely ours — and yet not entirely ours to control. It’s about data that is personal yet transpersonal. As with the prime object lesson in networked privacy — social media — so with consumer DNA sites, the real breach is simply that the data exists in the first place” (Kroll-Zaidi, 2021).

Cece Moore, America’s foremost genetic genealogist addressed the issue of privacy after attending a genetics conference where two panelists were women who were members of the Native American nations. 

“The women explained they wouldn’t take a test without consulting everybody else in the tribe, because they’d be making the decision for everybody.” The same logic, she pointed out, now applied to the whole country. “It all happened under the radar, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re opposed: It’s a collective decision that’s already been made. A lot of what the privacy advocates have said I agree with. But 30 million people made that choice for everybody else” (Kroll-Zaidi, 2021).

Cece Moore has been credited for solving countless crimes using DNA databases to build family trees that link the criminals to DNA left at crime scenes. Her work has brought closure to many families but is now in question. 

In fact, two states have already questioned the unsupervised use of DNA databases. Both Maryland and Montana now require a judge’s sign-off or a search warrant before delving into DNA database information. New laws are being written to make access available for only credited genetic genealogists. Lawyers cited infringement on the Fourth Amendment: the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

This brings me back to the original question. A crime-free (or at least murder-free) America is not that far-fetched; our DNA could be the piece of the puzzle that solves every crime.

Are we willing to use it?