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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.


Fix the Flaws in Forensic Scienceby Eric S. LanderThe New York TimesApril 21st, 2015A Justice Department review found that F.B.I. testimony about hair identification was fundamentally flawed in 96% of the cases it examined. Of those defendants, 33 received the death penalty and nine have been executed so far.
Colorado Bill Would Add DNA Testing for Eight Misdemeanor Convictionsby Noelle PhillipsThe Denver PostApril 14th, 2015"The notion the government gets to keep your genetic code in perpetuity is frightening."
California and your DNA: Is it a healthy relationship? by Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesMarch 16th, 2015While every state across the country takes part in newborn screening, each state differs in how it handles the blood cards and the genetic information they hold. In California, those cards are stored indefinitely and potentially rented out for a broad array of uses.
D.C.ís New Crime Lab Goes Under the MicroscopeWashington Post EditorialMarch 11th, 2015What's the point of spending millions of dollars on a crime lab if people donít trust its findings and wonít use it?
How DNA Is Turning Us Into a Nation of Suspectsby John WhiteheadThe BlazeMarch 11th, 2015Every dystopian sci-fi film weíve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful.
Supreme Court Gives Tacit Approval for Government to Take Anybodyís DNAby David KravetsArs TechnicaMarch 2nd, 2015The Supreme Court has let stand the conviction of a rapist whose prosecution rested on DNA swiped from the armrests of an interrogation-room chair.
Building a Face, and a Case, on DNAby Andrew PollackThe New York TimesFebruary 23rd, 2015Rather than an artistís rendering based on witness descriptions, the face was generated by a computer relying solely on DNA found at the scene of the crime.
Your DNA is Everywhere. Can the Police Analyze it?by David KravetsArs TechnicaFebruary 20th, 2015A human sheds as much as 100 pounds of DNA-containing material in a lifetime and about 30,000 skin cells an hour. Who owns that DNA is the latest privacy issue before the US Supreme Court.
A primer on DNA forensicsby Blair CrawfordOttawa CitizenFebruary 18th, 2015Improved technology and automation means DNA profiles can now be done in a matter of days and, in the future, the wait could be reduced to just hours. But DNA evidence is hardly infallible.
EFF to Supreme Court: The Fourth Amendment Covers DNA Collectionby Press ReleaseElectronic Frontier FoundationFebruary 18th, 2015People have a Fourth Amendment right to privacy when it comes to their genetic material, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues in an amicus brief filed this week with the Supreme Court.
Forensics Specialist Discusses a Discipline in Crisisby Daniel CresseyNature NewsFebruary 12th, 2015The judiciary are certainly concerned about some of the evidence types that are appearing in their courtrooms. Thatís borne out by the rulings they are making.
State Courts Strike Blows to Criminal DNA Collection Laws in 2014óWhat to Look for in 2015by Jennifer LynchElectronic Frontier FoundationJanuary 5th, 2015The "slippery slope toward ever-expanding warrantless DNA testing" is already upon us. But recent state cases provide reason for hope.
Biopolitical News of 2014by Pete Shanks, Jessica Cussins & Marcy DarnovskyBiopolitical TimesDecember 19th, 2014This is everything important that happened in biopolitics in 2014 (or close to it).
Mandatory DNA Collection During Arrest is Unconstitutional, Court Saysby Maura DolanThe Los Angeles TimesDecember 3rd, 2014An appeals court decided unanimously that Californiaís practice of taking DNA from people arrested for felonies - though not necessarily convicted or even charged - violates the state constitution.
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 itís 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 personís DNA, ďI can tell exactly what you look like,Ē 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.
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