To Catch A Criminal: Ethics and Privacy Risks in DNA Familial Searches

Amateur genealogists use popular genealogy websites such as MyHeritage, 23andMe, and Ancestry to sleuth out familial DNA matches, unearthing connections to long-lost cousins, coloring in spotty family trees, and discovering ancestral origins in far-off lands. Recently, however, as police departments have turned to commercial genealogy websites to trace anonymous crime scene DNA to suspects and […]

NBC News Think: Steve Mercer on why private DNA databanks are the next big privacy battleground.

Your DNA is the next big privacy battleground Are we on the verge of another Cambridge Analytica-type meltdown? Lawyer Stephen Mercer thinks so. Except this time, it’s our own DNA we should be worried about. Mercer has practiced at the intersection of DNA and civil liberties since 2002, when he litigated the first constitutional challenge […]

Golden State Killer case raises privacy concerns about DNA submitted to genealogy websites

Steve Mercer interviewed by FOX5 DC. WASHINGTON – Authorities have revealed that they were able to track down California’s most elusive killer by using a genealogy website. After the major break in the decades-old case of the Golden State Killer, the usage of familial data in a police investigation is now in the spotlight. Investigators […]

Use of DNA in serial killer probe sparks privacy concerns

  SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Investigators who used a genealogical website to find the ex-policeman they believe is a shadowy serial killer and rapist who terrified California decades ago call the technique ground-breaking. But others say it raises troubling legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who submit their DNA to such sites to […]

When the Only Way to Go Free is to Plead Guilty

A Baltimore case shows just how far prosecutors will go to keep a win on the books. In 1987, police detectives — who’d later be made famous by David Simon, creator of The Wire — used flimsy evidence to pin a burglary, rape, and murder case on James Thompson and James Owens. Both men were both sentenced […]

A Not So Perfect Match

Stephen Mercer disagrees. “Of course they’re gonna come up with analogies that seem to do away with any sense of wrongdoing or any sense of violation of privacy by the government. So, they say, ‘Oh, well this is like a partial plate, and we’re just following up on these leads….,” he says.
“And what’s wrong with that?” Stahl asks.

“Because it’s not a partial plate. We’re talking about DNA. DNA is different. DNA contains a vast amount of intensely personal information,” Mercer says.

Scrooge comes to Prince George’s County

Juvenile courts have become real-life Scrooges to young adults trying to turn their lives around after troubled childhoods. The courts are imposing unnecessary administrative fees and subjecting those unable to pay to harsh collection penalties that disrupt families, schools and work. A juvenile court is responsible for the rehabilitation of youths, not preventing successful — […]

The controversial DNA search that helped nab the ‘Grim Sleeper’ is winning over skeptics

He roamed the streets of Sacramento for six years, raping women as they walked to work or headed home from parties in the dark. To keep them from fighting back, he smashed their heads with rocks and wrapped his hands around their necks. Sometimes he threatened them with a gun. Police became frustrated, unable to identify him even though they had his DNA […]

How forensic genealogy led to an arrest in the Phoenix ‘Canal Killer’ case

The man accused in Phoenix’s “Canal Killer” case may have his ancestors to blame for his 2015 arrest. Records show forensic genealogy was key in leading police to Bryan Patrick Miller, a man now facing a death-penalty trial in the early 1990s slayings of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas. Using a method with little precedent in the world of […]

Policing DNA, Digital Government, “Super Gang” Trial

Local police jurisdictions have increasingly been creating their own DNA databases, which exist outside of federal regulation. Our guest Frederick Harran is the director of public safety of the Bensalem Police Department in Pennsylvania, and his department began creating a DNA database in 2010. Also joining us is Stephen Mercer, chief attorney for the Forensics Division of the Maryland Office of the […]

Familial DNA Testing

  The practice of “familial searching” is causing a conflict between solving crimes and protecting privacy. Police can now take DNA from a crime scene and compare it to millions of DNA samples in a government database. If there is even a partial match, that could lead to the criminal by way of his or […]