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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.


The Blurred Lines of Genetic Data: Practicality, Pleasure and Policingby Jessica CussinsThe Huffington PostMay 8th, 2015Shocking news from Idaho is a reminder that we don’t always control what happens with our data, and won’t always like it.
The Blurred Lines of Genetic Data: Practicality, Pleasure and Policingby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesMay 7th, 2015Amidst a rumor that Apple may encourage iPhone owners to participate in DNA testing and share their genetic data, shocking news from Ancestry.com and the Idaho police is a reminder that we don’t always control what happens with our data, and won’t always like it.
Can we Still Rely on DNA Sampling to Crack Crime?by Danny ShawBBC NewsMay 5th, 2015The new arrangements are so convoluted that even the man responsible for overseeing them has cast doubt as to whether they can work effectively and fairly.
How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Caseby Jennifer LynchElectronic Frontier FoundationMay 1st, 2015This case highlights the extreme threats posed to privacy and civil liberties by familial DNA searches and by private, unregulated DNA databases.
National Accreditation Board Suspends All DNA Testing at D.C. Crime Labby Keith L. AlexanderWashington PostApril 27th, 2015The audit ordered “at a minimum” the revalidation of test procedures, new interpretation guidelines for DNA mixture cases, additional training and competency testing of staff.
Hi-Tech DNA Machines Cause Concernby Oscar QuineThe IndependentApril 26th, 2015Police forces across the UK are testing technology that allows officers to analyse DNA samples in custody suites, amid fears that civil liberties could be infringed and evidence compromised.
Five Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About Forensic “Science”by Jordan SmithThe InterceptApril 24th, 2015Last week, it was revealed that the FBI “overstated forensic matches in a way that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent” of the cases. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to flawed forensics.
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.’s 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 don’t trust its findings and won’t use it?
How DNA Is Turning Us Into a Nation of Suspectsby John WhiteheadThe BlazeMarch 11th, 2015Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve 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 Anybody’s 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 artist’s 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. That’s borne out by the rulings they are making.
State Courts Strike Blows to Criminal DNA Collection Laws in 2014—What 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).
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