Cops Get New Tool to Search Family Tree

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The other benefit he sees is the ability to create and store genetic data internally. The way companies like Parabon and FamilyTreeDNA operate is to process DNA, search the database and create a family tree, then return a list of names of potential suspects to their enforcement clients. the law. This type of work can quickly become costly, which is why law enforcement agencies with limited budgets have tended to use these services only for unsolved crimes of very high magnitude.

Hellwig launched Intermountain Labs to work on the other cases – the murders that didn’t make the headlines, the unsolved missing persons cases and the nation’s shameful backlog more than 100,000 untested rape kits. “We’re a non-profit organization, so we don’t care who solves the case, we just want to solve it,” Hellwig says. By generating a DNA profile internally, he is free to share this data with volunteer genealogists from the Utah Cold Case Coalition, or with others. benevolent genetic sleuth groups. “No one has a monopoly on data this way,” Hellwig says.

The constant stream of headlines hailing genetic genealogy as the cracker of cold business over the past two years has created a new sense of urgency for law enforcement agencies to step into the game. There is no centralized tally of cases resolved with the method across different databases, Williams told WIRED that GEDmatch has so far been used to identify suspects in more than 200 cases. (There is no count yet available of how many of these people have been convicted, but it’s not bad.) “There is no better motivator than this public pressure,” Hellwig says.

Verogen’s new genetic genealogy product is intended to provide the final push. But it also has features clearly meant to appease privacy skeptics. The new kits generate a much thinner genetic profile than what you would get from an Ancestry or 23andMe test – approximately 15,000 data points against 600,000. Because there is so much less information, Verogen had to develop a different type of algorithm to identify potential family members and estimate their degree of relatedness. Rather than comparing the amount of DNA overlap between two people, he is now looking for patterns of similarities in unique places that have been shown to be highly predictive of kinship. This means that it is not compatible with the existing profiles that GEDmatch has on file for its users, of which only around 325,000 have consented to police searches of the database.

The company therefore converted these consent profiles into a format suitable for research with the new DNA kit, while omitting the profiles of former GEDmatch customers who had not opted for this option. Their team is creating a separate portal just for the right law enforcement agencies to upload their crime scene sample data.The idea is to make it technologically impossible to unauthorized searches of non-consenting users. . (It is something that happened in the past, not only at GEDmatch, but in several private consumer databases, as The LA Times revealed last week.) Williams says the infrastructure changes should more completely isolate those who do not wish to involve their DNA in criminal law enforcement intrusions.

Plus, DNA test kits don’t scan any part of the genome that is known to be medically important, Williams says. “The way it’s been done before is actually an appropriation of technology not intended for forensic use,” he says. Who created understandable privacy concerns. In addition to family ties, the types of DNA data created from consumer pin kits may contain information about an individual’s appearance, ethnicity, and medical risks. Although the United States has laws preventing employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their genes, the police have much more freedom with such information. “What we’re trying to do is take a step back and say, ‘How do we create something that works for law enforcement investigators and that minimizes privacy breaches as much as possible? Williams says. “Because the genie is definitely out of the bottle at this point.”

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