Has Investigative Genealogy Become the Wild, Wild West?

The marriage of genealogy and DNA being used to solve “cold case” crimes is receiving a lot of publicity these days. On the one hand, it is an excellent tool for solving murders and other violent crimes. On the other hand, there are concerns about personal privacy, government “Big Brother” privacy issues, abuse by police and others that have access to the various databases, and about simple human errors that can cause innocent people to be incarcerated or even executed.

NOTE: Click here to read about one recent example of an innocent man being arrested and incarcerated because of mistaken identity in a DNA test. Luckily, in this case, the error was discovered by a suspicious public defender and the innocent man was released from custody within a few days. However, will other mistaken identity cases be rectified so quickly?

Kathleen E. Dion, an attorney at Robinson & Cole LLP, has written a short article about the various pros and cons and writes, “Many interesting ethical and legal issues have already been raised, including questions about Fourth Amendment protections and the privacy rights of individuals.”

You can read Kathleen E. Dion’s article in the Lexology.com web site at: http://bit.ly/2TKLQm5. (Registration on the web site may be required in order to read two or more articles on this site.


Of course errors will be made. Isn’t that human nature? Certainly law enforcement was not blameless in the past. We can hope genetics in combination with other tools will make it better. It certainly isn’t likely to make it worse overall. If I can help improve the odds, I’m delighted.


No, the press is treating cases like this with sensationalism. There has always been human error and the potential for it in legal cases. There have always been over-zealous law officers and prosecutors and the potential for problems in legal cases.


When it comes to DNA, we’re still in the early stages of unraveling its full potential. At the moment, the development of potential uses for this body of scientific knowledge is running ahead our ability to absorb the real world implications of the volume of new developments, so it’s important to keep an open mind in every case and always remember to look at the totality of all the evidence, the same way we do when applying the genealogical proof standard to a family tree.


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