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Genetics & Justice Laboratory - Other Related Ongoing Projects

Perspectives on Biometrics

Facial recognition technologies (FRT) increasingly permeate our daily lives and are rapidly being integrated into healthcare systems, whether in research, management of care, diagnostics, administration (e.g., check-in procedures), or security. Data derived from facial images might relay patient identity or diagnostic characteristics (including emotion). As FRT and facial image and image-derived data become more common, the data management practices of healthcare systems will have a significant effect on public trust in their use of these technologies and data.

DNA in Forensics & Law Enforcement

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.

Investigative Genetic Genealogy

Investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) has garnered significant attention from the media and public for its value as a law enforcement tool and for the concerns it raises, although misconceptions abound regarding the true risks. Data is needed on the actual harms arising from IGG casework to ascertain the value of IGG in terms of public safety and crime resolution, to support public understanding of the approach, and to promote ethics-informed training in IGG.

Improvements to Missing Person Investigation Practices

“I think the measure of a society is how it treats its dead. And I don’t think who the decedent is should ever matter. Where you die shouldn’t have an impact on your experience and that’s domestic or international […] whether you are an American citizen or somebody of foreign citizenship, that you are treated with the same respect and that your body can eventually find its way home.” – Statement from a key stakeholder during the DNA Identification of Missing Migrants Symposium and Stakeholder Forums, March 2020

Our research examines the gaps in policy and inefficiencies in practices that disadvantage missing persons investigations, particularly for vulnerable or minoritized populations.

Genomics Issues in the Media

News and social media are influential in determining both which issues receive public attention and conveying opinions of the public. Analysis of media coverage can provide scientists and administrators insight into how journalists and reporters understand a topic of interest and communicate it to the public. Social media also has come to play an important role in news consumption and public policy discussion. While inaccuracies on social media platforms is a common concern, most users still see advantages to consuming news through this medium. ​​Examining the network of news and social media through which information is presented, consumed, and discussed by journalists, reporters, and the public can illuminate both the scope and accuracy of coverage and public concerns for the use of genetic information in secondary and nonmedical contexts.