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DNA databases and you: What to consider

On Behalf of | Sep 14, 2021 | Violent Crimes

Are you thinking about buying those DNA testing kits this holiday season for yourself and your family members? You might want to rethink those plans.

Home DNA testing has become quite popular with people who want to explore everything from the best diet for their genes to their genetic ancestry. They’ve also become popular with the police.

Genetic code databases are being mined by the authorities

“Investigative genetic genealogy” is all the rage among law enforcement. Databases created by companies like Ancestry and 23andMe have become fertile grounds for forensic hunts by authorities as they seek to close cold cases — especially since they found the notorious Golden State Killer that way.

So, what’s the problem? You’ve never done anything wrong in your life, and you don’t believe anybody in your family has reason to be concerned, either. DNA is often considered the “gold standard” in forensic evidence these days — but the presence of DNA on evidence from a crime scene can actually be misleading.

DNA evidence isn’t as perfect as many people believe

Consider this example: DNA found at a wealthy homeowner’s murder scene in 2012 was connected to a homeless man with a drinking problem. He was arrested and charged with the murder — despite the fact that evidence later showed he had been black-out drunk in a hospital bed many miles away at the time.

How did his DNA get all over the murder scene? The same paramedics who had treated and transported the homeless man to the hospital were called to the homicide scene — and their prior patient’s DNA rode along, probably on their jackets or equipment.

Trace DNA can transfer very easily, and many of those old samples of DNA sitting around in police evidence lockers have been handled, moved and stored in multiple ways over the years. There’s simply no telling whose DNA has ended up where.

Many experts feel like DNA database mining is a step too far when it comes to intrusions on privacy. However, once your DNA is in one of those databases, there’s no getting it back out. That could one day have you (or someone you love) facing serious criminal charges