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?