Sunday, April 01, 2007

DNA: A Not So Perfect Match

60 Minutes aired this story on partial DNA matches:

There's a new saying in law enforcement circles these days: don't do the crime if your brother's doing time. And the reason for that is the power of DNA.
As 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl reports, every state in this country collects DNA from convicted felons and loads it into computer databases, all linked together by the FBI. When detectives find DNA at a crime scene, they run it through that database looking for a perfect match. You see this on crime shows all the time.
But sometimes a search yields a not so perfect match – a partial match, in which case it's clear that the felon in the database did not commit the crime. But the DNA is so similar, maybe their father, mother, or brother did.
Which raises a dilemma: should police start investigating those family members, or is that going too far?

Law enforcement has the legal and moral obligation to use every tool available to solve and prevent crime. Let's ask the next victim of a serial rapist if we should tip toe around the alleged privacy concerns of incarcerated felons and their blood relatives.
On the program attorney Stephen Mercer, presenting the opposing view, said that by looking at family members of partial DNA matches we are "...subjecting a whole new class of innocent people to genetic surveillance by the government." Please. If the police dragged all these people downtown and forced them to confess to crimes they did not commit, Mercer might have a point. No one is surveilling anybody. When a doughy, middle aged, white man commits a crime in my town, I and every other doughy, middle aged, white man is suspect, as well we should be. Now let's say, God forbid, DNA that closely resembles my incarcerated brother's is found at a serious crime scene. Should the police roust every doughy, middle aged, white man or focus their efforts on me? It seems that how you answer that question depends on what you value, public safety and the rights of victims or chimerical privacy concerns.

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