(C01)
Genetic technologies: intersecting criminal investigation, disaster victim identification and commercial uses
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 20
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 16:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Rafaela Granja (University of Minho) email
  • Victor Toom (Goethe University) email

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Chair Rafaela Granja [University of Minho]; Victor Toom [Goethe University]

Short abstract

We aim to explore the intersections between the use of genetic technologies in criminal investigation, disaster victim identification and commercial uses. Our goal is to stimulate a debate on the mutable social, political and commercial meanings attributed to genetic technologies.

Long abstract

Genetic technologies are playing a pivotal role about identity, how someone may look or where someone originate from. Such applications have been deployed in inter alia practices of disaster victim identification, criminal investigation and in commercial genealogy testing. Despite the similarity of deployed genetic technologies in these three domains, so far, their implications have been framed differently.

The current academic debate on the use of genetic technologies in the field of criminal identification tends to emphasize the risks of disproportionate citizens' surveillance, and threats to privacy and presumption of innocence. The uses of genetic technologies in disaster victim identification tends to be associated with a humanitarian rationale and a form of respecting and honouring victims and their families' rights to 'know the truth'. Lastly, commercial genealogy testing has been framed within a 'economy of hope' that allegedly allows to 'find your roots'.

In this panel we welcome contributions that draw on diverse case studies to critically engage with the mutable social, political and commercial meanings attributed to genetic technologies in these three domains of practice. Our aims are twofold: first, to scrutinize the development, stabilization and politicization of genetic technologies in particular case scenarios; secondly, to critically discuss the values and infrastructures they carry.

o How is expertise constructed and assembled in daily practices?

o What are the moral economies and commercial interests played out?

o How and what can we learn by juxtaposing the practices?

o What is made (in)visible?

o How is power embedded in those practices?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Assembling and disassembling ethical controversies of familial searching: the cases of the UK and Poland

Authors: Rafaela Granja (University of Minho) email
Helena Machado (University of Minho) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the uses of familial searching both for criminal investigation and for civil identification purposes. Drawing on the cases of UK and Poland we use the concept of (dis)assembling ethical controversies to understand the the multiple socially legitimate uses of genetic technologies.

Long abstract

Familial searching is a technology that detects genetic relatedness. The term is generally used to refer to searches conducted in criminal DNA databases to identify criminal suspects through their connection with relatives. Beyond criminal investigation purposes, familial searching might also be used for the identification of unknown bodies and missing persons. The UK and Poland are illustrative cases of the mutability of meanings, uses and regulations attributed to familial searching. In the UK, familial searching is regulated by exceptionality and is mainly used for the identification of suspects in serious criminal cases. In Poland, familial searching is regulated within the framework of expanding the scope of its application in civil identification, particularly in identifying missing persons and in supporting the restitution of the rights of victims of the Communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.

Drawing on interviews with diverse stakeholders in the UK and Poland, we use the concept of assembling and disassembling ethical controversies to understand how familial searching displays multiple, fragmented notions of the socially legitimate uses of genetic technologies. We also outline how familial searching prescribes particular notions of social risk, public good, and state accountability and deals with different moral economies and power relations.

Forensic DNA retention: public perspective studies in the United Kingdom and around the world

Author: Aaron Amankwaa (Northumbria University) email
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Short abstract

This review sought to survey primary studies on forensic DNA retention carried out in the UK and other jurisdictions. The goal of the review was to establish the existing knowledge about public perspectives on DNA retention, identify research gaps and provide recommendations for further research.

Long abstract

This review analysed public perspective studies on forensic DNA retention in the United Kingdom and around the world. The studies generally show strong public support for the long-term or indefinite retention of DNA from convicts and suspects. There is considerable support for the retention of DNA from all or some arrestees and potentially the entire population. This was most likely predicated upon the belief that forensic DNA databases have crime-solving abilities. In the UK, it was found that the current Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 regime is broadly representative of the recommendations of the surveyed British public. Nevertheless, the studies highlighted a gap in forensic DNA education among the public, suggesting that public views may not be well informed. Overall, there was clear evidence of concerns about privacy and the misuse of DNA records, with a significant number opposing the retention of DNA from the innocent. Most of the studies were qualitative or non-representative of the relevant population, thus limiting the generalisation of the results. There were also limited studies among a representative sample of stakeholders directly involved in the operation of the database. A research into the views of primary stakeholders is therefore highly recommended. This is important because the studies suggest divergent views among criminal justice professionals and other members of the public, with the former expressing expansive views and the latter restrictive views. The stakeholders' survey will help establish whether the relevant safeguards have been put in place to protect both public security and individual interests.

Intersecting discourses of security, commerce and race. Forensic DNA phenotyping and biogeographical ancestry prediction in the German public debate

Authors: Matthias Wienroth (Newcastle University) email
Veronika Lipphardt (University of Freiburg) email
Denise Syndercombe Court (King's College London) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyses intersecting interests, moral economies, epistemic claims on "race" and "ancestry", and competing expertises in the German public debate around the legalisation of new forensic genetics technologies, contextualising the analysis with the current regulatory situation in the UK.

Long abstract

This paper explores the German public debate around new forensic technologies which promise to reliably infer visible traits (FDP) and predict biogeographical ancestry (bgA) from a person's DNA. Advocates of introducing these technologies into criminal justice practice - including senior policy-makers, forensic scientists and practitioners - posit them as powerful weapons to fight crime quickly and efficiently, to stabilize the populations' "feeling of security" in the face of increased migration, and to help victims' relatives to overcome trauma.

Proponents claim German legislation is too prohibitive due to exceeding political correctness and data protection. Moreover, they cite very high prediction accuracies for bgA, i.e. 99.9% for continental ancestry regarding the population categories "African", "European", "Asian" and "Pacific". This resonates well with ways in which some German publics make sense of commercial ancestry testing results, namely in terms of racial categories.

The legal and current use of bgA in German forensic laboratories for victim identification seems uncontroversial; however, in criminal cases, some bgA analyses also appear to have been conducted unofficially to support investigations.

In this paper, we analyse the recent law amendment initiative to permit the use of FDP and bgA, and the associated public debate. For contextualisation, we draw on the UK situation, where the new technologies are currently informally regulated by commissioners of the tests but used very rarely. We discuss the interwovenness of a number of intersecting interests, moral economies, epistemic claims on "race" and "ancestry", and competing expertises in the public portrayal of the technologies.

The "technopolitics of likelihood": the French National DNA Database (FNAEG) and the comparison of genetic profiles

Authors: Florence Paterson (MINES ParisTech, CNRS, PSL) email
Vololona Rabeharisoa (MINES ParisTech) email
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Short abstract

The technical and political dimensions of DNA profile comparison performed by the French National DNA database are considered in the light of internal discussions on the distinction between "rapprochement" and "identification".

Long abstract

Our communication is about the French National DNA database, the Fichier National Automatisé des Empreintes Genetiques (FNAEG). This DNA database, created by a 1998 law and placed under the control of a magistrate, is exclusively used upon judicial requisition. Only in the context of a judicial investigation are the FNAEG staff authorised to run the DNA profile of a suspect or of a biological trace collected from an offence scene against the DNA database. In this paper, we consider the technical and political dimensions of this comparison practice - which the FNAEG staff call "rapprochement" (literally, bringing two or more DNA profiles together that resemble one another).

Based on the minutes of the meetings of the FNAEG technical committee responsible for the implementation of the DNA database, we followed the discussions on the distinction between "rapprochement" and "identification". This allows us to characterize the nature of this committee's expertise, which partakes to what we propose to call "technopolitics of likelihood". In contrast to discourses that celebrate or criticize the omnipotence of DNA evidence, this expertise calls for two observations: (i) it carries a specific definition of the legal nature of DNA evidence; (ii) it delimits the regal powers of the state invested in the DNA database, within the framework of a distribution of competences and prerogatives between science, police and justice.

The death, the living and the disappeared: bringing back absent bodies in mass atrocities through DNA, and cybernetic citizenship

Authors: Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (Exeter University) email
Arely Cruz-Santiago email
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Short abstract

DNA and dataveillance has been mobilised by citizens to search for truth when the state is involved in the crimes it investigates, bringing to life a participatory STS, that enrols mobile apps and grass-roots DNA databases, to face the challenges posed by mass atrocities, conflicts, and insecurity.

Long abstract

Our DNA connects us to our ancestors, and our kin. Genetic connections pave the way for state surveillance, but also make possible to fight for human rights and political freedoms. For instance forensic DNA databases have been central to recover the identity of the disappeared during the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, and the civil wars and genocides in Central America. In Mexico governmental institutions officially recognise 161,000 violent deaths and 30,000 disappearances in the period between 2006- 2017; in a scenario characterised by the collaboration of the State and organised crime. This paper analyses how DNA and dataveillance has been mobilised by citizens to search for truth when the state is involved in the crimes it is supposed to investigate, and how a citizen-led forensic and anti-kidnapping model that engages with participatory research methods, mobile apps and grass-roots DNA databases, could address the challenges posed by mass atrocities, conflicts, and insecurity. I introduce the notion of cybernetic citizenship to talk about the emergence of civic practices that challenge the 'right order of things', in contexts where the dominant discourses of NGOs and governmental actors privilege a state-centred model of reparation and truth finding. In contrast to a programmatic form of civic participation and forensic science, I explore the contours of emergent, non-state centric and viral forms of scientific citizenship, that I think better respond to the challenges posed by organised crime and state sanctioned violence (s) in contemporary Mexico.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.