How your DNA test catches bad guys
This week I heard a story on Triple J's Hack program about how Australian law enforcement bodies may soon be using genealogy web sites to track down criminals.
It is a brilliant example of some, dare I say it, lateral thinking.
In a stroke of genius someone, somewhere, had the idea that old DNA data collected in cold-cases could be plugged into genealogy web sites to see who may be related to the unidentified DNA at the crime site.
Once the web site had brought up all the potential relatives for this DNA sample, it was then just a relative simple matter of some old-school deduction to work out who perpetrated the crime.
Apparently cold cases are being solved in the USA with increasing regularity.
William Talbott II was convicted after US investigators used DNA profiles built from crime-scene evidence and uploaded them to public genealogy databases, like GEDmatch and Ancestry.com, to find his relatives.
They then built a family tree and whittled down the suspect pool via a process of elimination.
This method of crime solving, known as genetic genealogy, first rocketed to mainstream attention with the capture of Joseph DeAngelo, alleged to be the notorious Golden State Killer, and is becoming an increasingly popular tool for investigators in the US.
This is fantastic!
A historical reverse lookup of the bad guys. Now time is no longer a barrier to being caught.
As you can imagine this is kicking up quite the stink from a few angles.
While you may not have perpetrated a crime, the fact that you've voluntarily shared your DNA on the internet, means that people can be tracked down using "their" dna for whatever reason anyone wants.
Think about that.
In the wrong hands it is possible for anyone to be found with just the barest of DNA carrying samples.
Maybe you are in witness protection. Maybe your DNA was somewhere for some other reason.
It isn't hard for a strand of hair to end up almost anywhere.
Do you really want to be put in jail because someone borrowed your comb?
Do you want just anybody sniffing around your family for whatever reason they fancy?
Genealogy web sites are trying to manage it, but in reality it isn't hard to create a fake user account and kick off a DNA search.
Of course these tests and searches are only as good as the database they are searching and the business process of the company executing the search.
I have heard, in the past, that DNA searches for these genealogy web sites aren't much different to Fortune telling.
The fact is that DNA searching has the potential to be the most accurate way to find anybody - even those who don't want to be found.
One thought occurs regarding scams. Scams work because they are "believable enough". Imagine if the bad guys had access to names and data that made what they said to you sound even more believable than it does already? Scary stuff.
Personally I can't wait until roadside and other public litter is regularly tested for DNA, because YOU KNOW your DNA is all over everything you throw away, and people automatically fined for polluting.
Maybe we need a dog poo DNA database too ;-)
Sleep tight and don't do anything. At. All.