Monday, January 1, 2007
From abanet.org: FBI crime lab director Joseph A. DiZinno recently stated that, under a new policy, the FBI will leave it to the states to decide whether to release any identifying information about an offender whose DNA profile closely matches a crime scene sample from another state. An advisory board of scientists is now reviewing the interim policy and will recommend whether the change should be made permanent within a few months.
While the FBI will notify investigators about close matches it finds using its present software, DiZinno says the agency has no plans to search its crime database using new software being developed for so-called kinship or familial searches. The software will allow DNA samples from the relatives of missing people to be compared with the DNA profiles of unidentified remains in an FBI database. The British have been using the technique to identify suspects for years, with some success.
Proponents of familial or kinship searching say it would help maximize the potential of DNA offender databases. They note that it would effectively increase the size of the database three or more times because every profile that is entered into it would contain information about at least two other people—the donor’s parents, along with his or her siblings and children. They also cite studies showing that convicted felons are more likely to have a close relative who has been incarcerated than members of the general population.
Henry T. Greely, a professor of law and genetics at Stanford University, says the legal and policy arguments for not doing such searches are that they may reveal family secrets; they may violate promises of privacy or confidentiality to those who gave DNA samples voluntarily; they may invade the suspects’ privacy, particularly if the person hasn’t been convicted of any crime; and they may put people at risk of being investigated simply because they have a relative who has been convicted of a crime. And he says those arguments are all quite weak.
Yet the idea of using DNA from offenders to help catch their relatives is a little disconcerting, Greely says, particularly given the fact that blacks, who constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population, make up about 40 percent of the people in the national DNA database. That would put blacks as a group under much greater investigative scrutiny than whites. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]