What’s In Your DNA?

  • Scientists have a new computational method that expands the way commercial and public gene databases can be used by law enforcement to catch criminals
  • While police still need a warrant to access data on sites like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, the new findings make it easier for them to track down criminals
  • The development raises privacy concerns, as criminals can be tracked down through family members who submitted their DNA through commercial sites 

Scientists are expanding the methods by which law enforcement can use DNA information gathered through sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe to solve crimes – and they’re raising ethical questions along the way.

California detectives have already used DNA obtained through public databases to track down and arrest Joseph James DeAngelo, suspected of being the Golden State Killer, who police say committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and more than 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986.

But now, according to a study published Thursday in the scientific journal Cell, researchers say they have developed a new computational method that expands the way commercial and public gene databases can be cross-referenced with those used by law enforcement.

The result: More crimes solved and countless ethical concerns raised, as many people could be linked to crimes simply because a relative submitted DNA to find out more about their family’s ancestry. Warrants are required to obtain such information from private companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe.

‘We think when we upload DNA that it’s our information, but it’s not. It’s the information of everyone who is biologically related to us,’ said Julia Creet, a Toronto-based researcher focused on the family history industry, in an interview with DailyMail.com.

Researchers at Stanford University have found a new computational method that expands teh way commercial and public gene databases can be cross-referenced with those used by law enforcement to solve crimes (file photo)

The goal of using public and commercial databases to solve crimes is more technically challenging than it may seem, as they tend to rely on completely different genetic markers than those used by law enforcement to identify potential criminals.

‘There’s a legacy problem in that so many DNA profiles have been collected with this older genetic marker system that’s been used by law enforcement since the 1990s,’ said senior author Noah Rosenberg, of Stanford University. ‘The system is not designed for the more challenging queries that are currently of interest, such as identifying people represented in a DNA mixture or identifying relatives of the contributor of a DNA sample.’

 This is a kind of Wild West of privacy protection and we’re dealing with the most personal type of information.                             – Julia Creet, director of Data Mining the Deceased

Researchers set out to see if they could use the newer, more modern system of genetic markers used in commercial methods and test those against the older law enforcement system to obtain matches and find relatives.

The FBI and police departments across the U.S. use a DNA database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. It relies on 20 DNA markers, which are different from those used in common ancestry databases – which scan across hundreds of thousands of sites in the genome.

Rosenberg and his team previously found that software could match people found in both databases even when there were no overlapping, or shared, markers between the two sets of data.

In their new research, the team found that the same approach could be applied to track down close family members – roughly 31 percent of the time in cases of parent-offspring pairs and 36 percent were linked among sibling pairs.

‘We wanted to examine to what extent these different types of databases can communicate with each other,’ Rosenberg said. ‘It’s important for the public to be aware that information between these two types of genetic data can be connected, often in unexpected ways.’

This means that law enforcement can more easily track down criminals even when the actual perpetrator has not submitted any DNA, as was the case in the Golden State Killer investigation.

In that instance, detectives submitted DNA collected from a crime scene for the traditional law enforcement genotyping, then used an open-source ancestry database called GEDmatch to link that profile to people who had voluntarily submitted their information into the database.

Many people who obtain their genetic data through commercial sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe later upload that information into GEDmatch in an effort to connect with other family members around the globe.

Police found relatives who had overlapping DNA markers and through a process of elimination tracked down DeAngelo.

 These are decisions that society can make. We need to have a robust conversation.                           – Dr. Ellen Clayton, Vanderbilt University

Police were able to access the information on GEDmatch because it was a public database, but law enforcement has successfully used warrants to obtain similar data directly from sites like Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com has 10 million customers, while 23andMe has more than 5 million.

A spokesman for 23andMe said the company uses strong security and privacy protocols to protect customer data – and that it warns customers that those guarantees don’t extend to any third-party sites where they choose to share their personal information.

A spokesman for Ancestry.com said the company prioritizes customer privacy and gives people a chance to opt out of sharing their information with other users. He added that the company will fight any efforts by law enforcement to obtain its data.

For those who have sought to learn more about their own background, the news could raise serious privacy concerns, said Creet, who directed and produced Data Mining the Deceased, a documentary about the industry of DNA and geneology.

‘Once your results have been uploaded into a collective database there is no way to extract them because other people have picked up on them,’ she said.

Joseph James DeAngelo. Police say DeAngelo is a suspected California serial killer known as the Golden State Killer who committed at least 13 homicides and 45 rapes throughout the state in the 1970s and '80s.

Joseph James DeAngelo. Police say DeAngelo is a suspected California serial killer known as the Golden State Killer who committed at least 13 homicides and 45 rapes throughout the state in the 1970s and ’80s.

Creet said anytime a person submits their DNA to a company to learn more about their heritage, it’s worth considering that they are also submitting 50 percent of their parents’ and children’s DNA, and 25 percent of their grandparents’ or grandchildren’s DNA.

‘Your results aren’t just about you,’ Creet added. ‘They’re about everyone you’re related to, which is how the police can use your results to track down a criminal who is distantly related to you. We’re not just talking about personal privacy; we’re talking about relational privacy.’

Experts are also concerned about how private companies are using genetic information they obtain. Ancestry.com is partnered with Calico, which is a Google spinoff, in an effort to analyze anonymized data from more than 1 million genetic samples.

Creet said that – given data breaches at other types of tech companies – there is significant cause for concern that even anonymized data could fall into the wrong hands and be re-identified.

Other issues could arise if health insurance companies were ever able to obtain genetic data on their customers and use that to discriminate against those with predispositions for certain diseases, she added.

‘This is a kind of Wild West of privacy protection and we’re dealing with the most personal type of information,’ Creet said.

Key Ethical Questions When Using DNA in Law Enforcement

DNA isn’t just personal: Do I want to share my sister’s DNA? Anyone who submits their own DNA for testing is also providing genetic info about any of their family members, which could later be accessed by law enforcement or for other unforeseen purposes.

Who owns the data: Who will get access to my DNA? A Google-spinoff company is partnering with Ancestry.com to analyze anonymized genetic data, which many users did not know at the time they submitted their DNA samples. Hacking is also a concern.

Regulation: How should lawmakers limit the usage of genetic data in solving crimes? Should health insurers have access to the information and be allowed to use it to charge more for people with predispositions to expensive health problems? Very little regulation currently exists defining how this data can be used.

Ultimately, society will have to decide if it’s worth losing a great deal of genetic privacy to solve violent crimes, said Dr. Ellen Clayton, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society.

‘The question is: How do you control the downstream users?’ Clayton told DailyMail.com. ‘Do you want to say that law enforcement should only use these kinds of data to find people who you suspect are perpetrators of very heinous violent crimes: rape, murder, etc.?’

Society can reach an answer to that question through legislation that prohibits the use of genetic data for other purposes, such as immigration enforcement, employment discrimination, or to solve minor, nonviolent crimes, she said.

‘These are decisions that society can make. We need to have a robust conversation about that,’ she said.

Clayton also noted that the vast majority of DNA data in law enforcement’s CODIS is disproportionately representative of racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the people using private companies to find out their genetic identities tend to be white and of Northern European descent.

‘One reason that really matters is that they couldn’t find the Golden State Killer in CODIS because he was a police man. He was a white police man,’ Clayton said.

from:    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6266115/New-technology-enables-police-use-DNA-sites-like-Ancestry-com-track-criminals.html

‘Stingray’ Spy Tech

NY Cops Used ‘Stingray’ Spy Tool 46 Times Without Warrant

The police department in Erie County, New York fought hard to prevent the New York Civil Liberties Union from obtaining records about its use of a controversial surveillance tool known as a stingray.

The reason why may be because of what the records show: that cops in that county, which includes the city of Buffalo, used the devices 47 times since 2010 but only once sought and obtained a court order to do so. That revelation contradicts what the county sheriff said last year when he asserted that the department only used the devices under “judicial review.”

In the single case in which police sought permission from a court, they asked for a court order rather than a warrant, which carries a higher burden of proof. And in their request, they mischaracterized the true nature of the tool.

“These records confirm some of the very worst fears about local law enforcement’s use of this expensive and intrusive surveillance equipment.”

The records, which the NYCLU published in a blog post today, also show that the county sheriff’s office signed a stringent gag order with the FBI to maintain secrecy about their stingray records. The department was told to withhold information about the devices in any documents filed with courts, such as affidavits and other documents describing how they obtained evidence in criminal cases. The department was even told that the FBI maintained the right to intervene in county prosecutions to request criminal cases be dismissed if there was a chance that a case might result in the disclosure of information about law enforcement’s use of stingrays.

“Stingrays are an advanced surveillance technology that can sweep up very private information, including information on innocent people,” NYCLU Western Region Director John Curr III said in a statement. “If the FBI can command the Sheriff’s Office to dismiss criminal cases to protect its secret stingrays, it is not clear how the $350,000 we are spending on stingray equipment is keeping the people of Buffalo safer.”

The revelations continue a trend in several states across the U.S. wherein law enforcement agencies have gone to great lengths to prevent the public from learning about their use of stingrays. The surveillance tool simulates a legitimate cell phone tower to trick mobile phones and other devices on a cellular network into connecting to the devices and revealing their location. Stingrays emit a signal that is stronger than the signal of other cell towers in the vicinity in order to force mobile phones and other devices to establish a connection with them and reveal their unique ID. Stingrays can then determine the direction from which the phone connected— a data point that can then be used to track the movement of the phone as it continuously connects to the fake tower.

Many police departments have signed non-disclosure agreements with the Harris Corporation, one of the leading makers of the devices, to prevent them from releasing records about the systems or discussing them. In Florida, the U.S. Marshals service went so far as to seize records about a local police department’s use of stingrays in order to prevent the American Civil Liberties Union from obtaining them. And many law enforcement agencies have deceived judges about their use of the devices in order to prevent defendants and the public from learning about how they’re being used.

Erie County similarly fought hard to prevent the NYCLU from obtaining these records but was ordered to turn them over by a court. The documents show that the sheriff’s office used stingrays at least 47 times between May 1, 2010 and October 3, 2014. The one time the department sought judicial approval was in October 2014, contrary to what Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard said in May, 2014: that the devices were used under “judicial review” in all criminal matters, implying that investigators always seek court approval before using them.

Not only this, but the records show that when the department did seek a court order, they identified the spy tool they planned to use as a pen register device, not a stingray or cell site simulator. The use of the term “pen register device” is controversial. Law enforcement agencies maintain that stingrays operate like pen registers and are not invasive, but this doesn’t paint the picture. Pen registers record the numbers dialed from a specific phone number, but stingrays are used primarily to track the location and movement of a device and can be much more invasive than pen registers. By describing the tool as a pen register device to the judge, the law enforcement agency was withholding information about the full capability of the device.

In fact, the public has yet to learn exactly how much these surveillance tools can really do, due to the secrecy around them. Recently, a federal agent admitted to a court that stingrays have the ability to disrupt cellular communications for any device in its vicinity, not just the ones targeted by law enforcement. And there are also stingray devices that have the ability to collect the content of phone calls, though U.S. law enforcement agencies have often insisted that the ones they use have this capability disabled.

Although there’s still much more the public should know about how and when law enforcement uses this invasive spying tool, it’s clear departments will continue to do everything in their power to keep the public, and judges, in the dark.

from:    http://www.wired.com/2015/04/ny-cops-used-stingray-spy-tool-46-times-without-warrant/

Ferguson, MO – New Activity?


State of emergency declared for Ferguson, MO; National Guard activated; FBI warns of nationwide violence

(NaturalNews) Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard yesterday afternoon, in anticipation of the mass riots and social unrest expected to begin as early as today. Ferguson is ground zero for a wave of mass social unrest expected to unfold after the grand jury there decides whether to indict a police officer in the shooting of African-American Michael Brown.

It is widely expected that the grand jury will render a decision that exonerates the police officer. This decision will not be acceptable to the frustrated citizens of Ferguson who have already announced that anything other than an indictment would lead to mass protests.

Locals fear that the protests may escalate into vandalism against local businesses as well as violence between protesters and government. Would-be protesters have been training and drilling in recent days, practicing tactics to stand up against police in what they call “militant non-violent civil disobedience.” [1]

The FBI, meanwhile, has warned that the decision could lead to violence. A recent FBI bulletin stated that the grand jury decision “will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure.”

This mirrors the letter sent out a few days ago by the city of Berkeley, Missouri, which warned residents to stockpile food, water, medicine, fuel and other supplies ahead of the expected riots. That letter, covered in this Natural News article, implies that the city’s water supply could be disrupted and that citizens would be on their own. [3]

Many citizens are taking decisive steps to prepare, including purchasing firearms for self defense. Gun sales have skyrocketed over the last few weeks in the St. Louis area as residents arm up in the anticipation of home invasions and other violence coming to their doorstep. As in most U.S. states, it is perfectly legal to own firearms for self defense in Missouri. In fact, Missouri has a concealed carry law which recognizes the right of citizens to carry firearms on their person even when in public places.

Could the Ferguson riots spread? Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles are all likely “spillover zones”

There is legitimate concern that if the riots escalate, they could spill over into other cities. To understand why, you have to realize how African-Americans have been abandoned by the Obama administration, left in a far worse situation than in 2008 when the lawless Obama regime began.

Today, unemployment among black men and women is far higher than six years ago, and the democratic party has largely ignored the real needs of the black community while rolling out the red carpet for Latinos, border crossers and the upcoming amnesty plan. It is precisely this wave of illegal immigrants to be granted amnesty which will displace millions of African-American workers who are already struggling in a depressed economy that offers few legitimate work opportunities for inner city residents.

The level of quiet frustration across the African-American community is the highest in a generation. This frustration and anger has reached such a crescendo that it will only take the government shooting of a single innocent black protester in Ferguson to ignite a firestorm of nationwide protests spilling from city to city.

The most likely cities to resonate with this anger are, of course, those with the highest African-American populations living in difficult conditions. Those cities include Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit and many more.

Anything less than 100% discipline among law enforcement will spark a disaster

Sadly, a single trigger-happy St. Louis police officer could set off nationwide riots by shooting an African-American protester. The images of the woman shot by police would resonate loudly across the culture and spark something approaching the scale of a citizens’ revolt.

To prevent the escalation of these riots, police and National Guard units are going to have to achieve 100% trigger discipline — a goal that’s impossible to guarantee when dealing with angry crowds. And what happens if an armed protester shoots at police? The law enforcement response would likely be overwhelming — perhaps brutal — causing very much the same anger among the protesters just as if a police officer had initiated the shooting instead.

Trust me when I say this situation is a tinderbox that’s ready to explode at the slightest mistake by law enforcement. Those of you who aren’t cops or who haven’t trained with cops can’t truly fathom the difficulty of restraint when you are outnumbered by a belligerent mob (often throwing bottles and other objects). Cops are trained to respond to threats with overwhelming force. It’s part of the cop survival strategy. So asking cops to sit back and be pelted with flying objects while NOT responding is asking a lot. All it takes is one cop who “loses his cool” and the whole thing explodes into violence.

If law enforcement greatly overreacts and shoots a large number of protesters, it doesn’t even matter if those protesters were violent or not. All that will really count is the photos of bloodied black men and women all over the internet, implying to the world that government police are mass murderers guilty of a massacre. Let us all hope and pray that it never comes to this.

My advice? Stay home and stay safe

When it comes to public protests and social chaos, my advice has always been to stay off the streets if you want to stay safe. Then again, public demonstrations against a corrupt, unjust government are also part of a healthy democracy, and there are times in history when people must take a stand against the corruption and criminality of government gone bad. (Think Gandhi…)

So while I support the First Amendment right for crowds to protest against corrupt government in a non-violent way, I also urge people to think carefully about the risks to your personal safety.

If your intent is to maximize your own personal safety in all this, you’ll want to stay off the streets and defend your home. “Barricade the doors!” might be a better call to action if you live within the riot zone. Crowds of angry people can do some pretty crazy things that none of the individuals would do on their own. If you own a car and park it on the street, get everything valuable out of it because the car might get torched or overturned. (Loot your own car before the looters loot it, in other words…)

For those who live in or near the riot zones: If you can legally own a firearm and keep it in your home for the protection of you and your family, strongly consider doing so. This is a scenario where dialing 911 will be utterly useless. Your self protection will likely fall onto your shoulders alone. Try to avoid mobs and avoid conflict. Don’t bring firearms to a protest scene; keep them safely in your home as a last ditch defense against home invasion aggressors. In other words, only use firearms to STOP violence, not to cause it. That’s a principle every responsible firearm owner already knows.