Genetic applications in law enforcement have advanced rapidly, as evidenced by the omnipresence of DNA profiling in popular culture. In addition to expanding the scope of the federal DNA database, detectives are using increasingly creative approaches to harness genetic information to develop investigative leads on cases, whether through familial searching or through molecular photofitting. Increased scale of genomic databases and new genome sequencing technologies mean law enforcement now has access to a larger population and more data than ever before. The pace of the science, the increasing scope of application, and the expansion of DNA databases has far out-paced public dialogue about the social impact and ethical implications of current practices. Given the fragmented oversight of forensic technologies, our research examines the ethical dimensions surrounding these applications.
Genomics Issues in the Media
The news media is influential in determining which issues receive public attention and conveying opinions of the public. An analysis of media coverage can provide scientists and administrators insight into how science is understood by the journalists and reporters who cover their areas of interest and then communicated to the broader public. Social media also has come to play an important role in news consumption and public policy discussion. While news inaccuracy on social media platforms is a common concern, most users still see advantages to consuming news through this medium. Understanding the network of media information developed, accessed, and relayed by the public will help to develop a map of what the public concerns are for the use of genetic information in secondary and nonmedical contexts and the scope and accuracy of the information being relayed.
Reunification of Separated Families
Over 500 children remain separated from their families as a result of the implementation of the ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy on United States borders in 2018. Beyond the United States, there are many historical and contemporary examples of large numbers of children being separated from their families, whether in the immigration process or under other circumstances such as illegal adoption. Family DNA testing can play a valuable role in helping families locate each other, in the reunification process, and in the prosecution of human rights violations. We are working in collaboration with other experts to develop a blueprint for efficient and ethical family DNA testing for use in current and future humanitarian crises.
Resources for the Public on DNA Uses at the Border
Our research into the ethical, legal, and social implications of non-medical applications of genomics has revealed a need for informational resources for migrant communities and other stakeholders such as NGOs, law enforcement, government, journalists, and the general public. We are working with other academic experts as part of our BorderDNA Resources Project and in consultation with NGOs, government, law enforcement, and scientists to develop educational materials for migrant communities undergoing DNA testing and stakeholders who engage with them across three topic areas: transnational missing persons investigations, rapid DNA testing of family units at the U.S.-Mexico border, and collection of DNA from detainees for the federal DNA database CODIS.