A few years ago, “Jeffrey Rosen, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, warned: ‘I can guarantee if familial searching proceeds, it will create a political firestorm.'” (1) But familial searching, as it is tendentiously called, prompted no huge political protests when California, Colorado, New York, and Virginia adopted it administratively. Now, legislative initiatives to implement it in various states (2, 3) and federally (4) have begun. However, the proposed legislation is timid, usually authorizing the practice only in murder and sexual assault cases and only after traditional investigative methods have failed.
1. Maura Dolan & Jason Felch, California Takes Lead on DNA Crime-fighting Technique: The State Will Search its Database for Relatives of Unidentified Suspects in Hopes of Developing Leads, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 26, 2008
2. Mike Cook, DNA — It’s All in the Family, Minnesota House of Representatives Session Weekly: News from the House, Apr. 8, 2011
3. Mark Scolforo, DNA Proposal Has Foes: Pa. Bill to Expand its Collection Opposed by the ACLU, Phil. Inquirer, Oct. 2, 2011
4. Press Release, Schiff’s Familial DNA Language Passes as Part of Conference Report, Nov. 21, 2011
Today’s talks at the International Symposium on Human Identification indicated some directions in which DNA-based identification technology will move in the near future. For example, one company reported a way to type 26 different STRs simultaneously. Is that enough to justify testimony of global individualization (with the exception of identical twins)?
The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice are seeking self-contained devices for rapid STR profiling and interpretation, and several companies claim to be on the verge of delivering them. “Rapid” means an hour or so, and the hope is that these microfluidic devices will permit on-the-spot (or at-the-police-station) results for investigations as well as DNA database queries and entries. One company promises a functioning product in April 2012. Another refers to an existing instrument “compact enough to be used in an office setting, airport security area, mobile van, or field-forward military site.”
None of these has been fully validated. The FBI is figuring on widespread implementation at local police stations in 4-7 years, but police in Palm Bay, Florida, have posted videos on YouTube to advertise their success with a microfluidic device in “Operation Rapid Hit.”
Finally, companies are supplying police with phenotype and ancestry data, including probable eye and hair color. For the future, the most impressive — and disquieting — approach uses “next-generation sequencing” to extract all the usual STRs, together with phenotypically and medically informative data in one fell swoop.
Indeed, sequencing the oral bacteria that we are host is possible. A speaker described one individual whose microbiome included a bacterium used in the industrial production of yogurt and cheese. Just imagine the APB: “The suspect is a white male with brown hair (probability = 0.45) and blue eyes (probability = 0.95) who likes yogurt.”