Is your DNA a matter of public record?

For many in Wisconsin, the letters DNA are synonymous with truth. If police have DNA evidence that links a suspect with a crime, it is proof enough that the suspect is guilty. What they may not realize is that DNA evidence is constantly under scrutiny and is not really the nail in the coffin that most TV crime shows pretend it is.

Nevertheless, presenting DNA evidence can be quite compelling for a jury, and prosecutors may go to great lengths to link a suspect to a crime through DNA. This has lately raised questions about privacy, especially since genetic matching services using DNA samples are becoming more popular among the mainstream.

Are your rights in jeopardy?

You may have seen the commercials on TV where someone sends a sample of saliva through the mail to a company that does genetic testing. The company tests the sample to reveal the person’s ancestry, traits and even health risks. If you have sent your DNA to one of these companies, you may have signed a release form that allows the company to release your DNA to law enforcement if you should become the subject of a police investigation.

Already, police have subpoenaed information about customers of a genetic testing company who matched DNA investigators found at the scene of a crime. Law enforcement claims the technique is acceptable because it has helped them find suspects wanted for violent crimes in several states. While such measures have closed cases for police, they have also placed innocent people under needless suspicion.

Avoiding the slippery slope

While DNA test results may conclusively identify someone who was at the scene of a crime, it may not prove the person committed the crime or even that the person was at the scene at the time of the crime. In fact, fresh DNA at crimes scenes is often notoriously tangled with old samples and even DNA that police themselves may have carried in on their clothing.

The technique of investigators using the samples customers send to genetic testing companies is raising question about your right to privacy. Even if you are not the subject of a police investigation, investigators may use your DNA to look for members of your family whom they suspect of committing crimes. Searches without warrants are illegal, and you may agree with some who feel that accessing your DNA through a genetic testing site is a violation of your civil rights.