Sunday, January 19, 2020

DNA as a crime-fighting tool: When does it cross the line of personal privacy rights?

SALT LAKE CITY — We leave an invisible trail of it behind us everywhere we go and of late, millions of us have voluntary harvested and submitted it to find out more about who we are and where we come from.

While once only a theoretical mystery, It’s been well over a decade since the international Human Genome Project announced reaching the end of its “inward voyage of discovery,” successfully completing a project that provided the world the “ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being.”

Since then, genomic innovations have advanced at a dramatic rate, including the development of technology that has enabled a new realm of direct-to-consumer genetic testing services that are cheap, fast and ubiquitous. Spit into a tube, send it out the door and in mere weeks you can find out the ethnic and geographic origins of your ancestors and, more personally, some pretty minute details about what physical and psychological anomalies may be coming your way.

A collateral outcome of this new volume of genetic testing are massive new databases holding troves of genetic data, veritable gateways to the most personal information about tens of millions of individuals.

Where is the line?
Now civil rights advocates are joining Utah lawmakers in the effort to establish some basic protections on this data as law enforcement and other government agencies are increasingly accessing this information as a genetic blueprint for building the perfect criminal case.

Connor Boyack, president of Utah-based libertarian public advocacy group Libertas Institute, said while the technology is a boon to amateur genealogists, the way it is being leveraged by government agencies raises concerns.

“In the past couple of years, law enforcement around the country have identified a new opportunity to use DNA to find and catch bad guys,” Boyack said. “At first blush, many might think this is an exciting new tool to catch criminals, however, when you look at it more closely, it’s actually a very profound violation of privacy.”

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