Tag Archives: crime

Is DNA phenotyping the future of solving crime cases?

Imagine a perfect crime – without any witnesses, circumstantial evidence or suspects. The only thing that remains after the offence is a single drop of blood or tiny piece of epidermis. Such a case seems impossible to be solved, doesn’t it? It turns out, however, that thanks to cutting-edge technology, from now on police is able to identify the perpetrators’ appearance just by obtaining a small amount of their DNA.

 

DNA phenotyping has already helped to solve many old cases, which on the face of it, seemed completely hopeless and started to fall into oblivion. But what exactly is this DNA phenotyping? This pioneering technology extracts from a sample of our DNA certain genes that are responsible for how we look and enables to create a possible outline of the offender’s appearance. Although it seems almost idyllic, it is a sketch with possible features, which if incorrectly interpreted, may lead to accusations of innocent people.

Dr. Moses Schanfield, a forensic scientist and DNA expert says:

“You’re not going to get a precise answer. It’s not like a DNA profile that the likelihood of a coincidental match is 10-to-the-negative-15th. You’re going to get a generic picture.”

 

A company that offers the above-mentioned DNA technology, Parabon Nanolabs, has been working with law enforcement since 2015. They have developed a sophisticated software capable of unlocking information contained in DNA left at a crime scene, called “Snapshot”. Records show that since 2011, the Department of Defense has poured more than $1 million into Parabon to develop Snapshot. Generating a sketch of a potential offender costs almost $3,000 per composite image and the service  has already assisted in over 40 cases. What makes it innovative and exceptional is that there is no need for a previously created list of suspects or any database. The only crucial thing is a piece of DNA.

Nevertheless, there are many opponents of such technological development. Many claim that this can lead to reinforcing racial bias or establishing probable cause against innocent people, ensnaring them in criminal investigations. What is more, as this is a new technology, it is not known what accuracy the system is getting, how well it can assess. Exposing the algorithm that is not thoroughly tested to a widespread use can lead to many harm and misleading decisions. I personally think that until the system’s infallibility is proven, appearance sketches can be used as an aid and guidance to the police, but not the main source of proof. Moreover, as far as I am concerned this technology should be covered by legal regulations and strictly enforced so as not to lead to its abuse and usage  for improper and immoral purposes.

 

Another question however, is whether society is ready for this kind of progress? Is obtaining DNA from blood found outside of someone’s home isn’t that different from getting DNA from a discarded cigarette butt or coffee cup? This DNA development undoubtedly is going to grow faster and faster now, are we ready to enter the future?

 

References:

https://www.circa.com/story/2018/11/29/nation/dna-technology-can-create-unbelievable-suspect-sketches-heres-why-that-should-scare-you

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/30/tech/dna-cold-cases-technology/index.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln-1-WysCbw

https://anthropology.columbian.gwu.edu/moses-schanfield

 

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Alexa, a witness of a murder?

Echo speaker

Since the release of Amazon Alexa in 2014 there have been many controversies regarding the amount of data that the speaker is collecting at all times. The way it works is that the Echo device is designed to detect “wake words” and only then start working. However, there were a lot of cases when Alexa actually recorded more than the user would expect. Echo can sometimes misinterpret the “wake words” or other commands and start listening and recording even when a user does not intend to record.

Court cases

Even though this is something that should not happen at all, the New Hampshire authorities investigating the murders of two women still want to check. A judge ruled that they can examine recordings from the Echo device because they believe that there might be evidence related to the crime. Investigators believe that Echo could have recorded the attack and the events that followed it.

Last year, when the similar case occurred in Arkansas, the suspect who owned the speaker agreed to release recording from the day of the suspected crime. In the end, a murder charge was dropped.

Is our privacy at stake?

Though these recordings might be beneficial in such cases, we have to think about the amount of information we are giving away to large corporations. Should we question our actual privacy, or should we believe that our recordings are in good, safe hands? Using Alexa you can do almost anything, from ordering food to your home address, to checking your bank account. While at a time it is very convenient, we need to keep in mind that such devices are always listening and gathering all kinds of personal data from the user.

It all comes to personal preferences and the ability to adapt to the actual changes. In the modern world the word “privacy” almost lost its meaning. Every device that you own collects information. About you, your data usage, your shopping preferences and so on. There is almost nothing you can do about it, since this is the life that we have now. This data can be used in many different ways, from personalized ads to such things like winning presidential campaigns. In most of the cases it won’t affect you that much, however, it is worth imagining what could be done with the information that is being collected about you. Who knows, maybe one day you say something that you would like to buy around Echo speaker and a couple of days you will see ads about this on Amazon.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-echo-judge-orders-company-produce-alexa-recordings-double-murder-case-2018-11-12/
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-alexa/oregon-family-finds-amazons-alexa-has-a-mind-of-her-own-idUSKCN1IQ05B
  3. https://www.bestvpn.com/privacy-news/is-alexa-listening-to-you/
  4. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/07/tech/amazon-echo-alexa-bentonville-arkansas-murder-case/index.html
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