The New York Times reports on the issue of genetic privacy as it relates to so-called “familial searching” of DNA databases. This type of search is controversial because the “near-match” person is not suspected — but that person’s relatives are. (Last year, George Washington law professor Jeffrey Rosen had an excellent article about increasing pressure for the expansion of familial searches of DNA databases.)
Although Britain has been using the technique for years, familial searching in the United States is the Botox of criminal investigation. Early-adopter states like California and Colorado have tried it, like it and plan, where appropriate, to use it again. The wait-and-see states are holding out while they consider the potential side effects and longer-term social ramifications. […]
But the immediate concern is that kinship searches could produce a long list of convicted felons who are only partial matches to an unidentified suspect. The risk is that the police, while looking for a suspect’s family members, might intrude on people who have not committed a crime. Some lawyers call it guilt by genetic association.
“Our concern is that the initial comparison that generates a list of partial matches does not narrow it down to a single suspect’s likely family member,” says Peter Bibring, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California. “It’s a list and, at that point, the invasion of privacy depends on how the police go about their business.” […]
Familial searches in Britain also often require a lot of bricks-and-mortar police work. Forensic scientists generate a list of people who are partial DNA matches to a suspect. But then they give the list to local constables, who may investigate and interview family members. […]
Would Americans stand for kinship searches if the police were given free rein to knock on the doors of people on a partial DNA match list, many of whom may not have anything to do with the unsolved crime?