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ELSI Virtual Forum

To Catch a Killer: Law Enforcement Uses of DNA Databases



In 2018, law enforcement identified a suspect in the Golden State Killer case by matching the genomic profile of DNA left at crime scenes to those held in public databases and by using inferred ancestral relationships and genealogical mapping to generate promising investigative leads. Since then, hundreds of cold cases have been solved by applying similar investigative strategies. This panel will explore the ELSI implications of law enforcement access to DNA data collected and shared primarily for non-forensic purposes. Amy McGuire will moderate the session, introduce the topic, and summarize ethical and legal considerations on both sides of the debate. James Hazel will argue that it is time to create a hierarchy of DNA databases with different inclusion, access, and security criteria.

To illustrate this point, he will compare research databases such as All of Us and dbGaP with forensic databases such as CODIS and will ultimately propose a universal forensic database. Jennifer Wagner will discuss questions of legality by outlining the contours of genetic privacy in the United States and limitations on law enforcement imposed by the Fourth Amendment. She will then explore proposed solutions to strengthen genetic privacy and establish parameters for acceptable law enforcement use of investigative genealogy. Christi Guerrini will argue that public opinion is critical and report data from a survey of 1,587 individuals to assess their perspectives on forensic use of genetic genealogy databases.

Panelists: James Hazel, JD, PhD; Jennifer Wagner, JD, PhD; Christi Guerrini, JD, MPH; Amy McGuire, JD, PhD

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