Avoiding genetic racial profiling in criminal DNA

This study is about DNA profiling has become an essential tool for crime solving and prevention, and CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) criminal investigation databases have flourished at the national, state and even local level. However, reports suggest that the DNA profiles of all suspects searched in these databases are often retained, which could result in racial profiling. Here, we devise an approach to both enable broad DNA profile searches and preserve exonerated citizens’ privacy through a real-time privacy-preserving procedure to query CODIS databases. Using our approach, an agent can privately and efficiently query a suspect’s DNA profile device in the field, learning only whether the profile matches against any database profile.


Fig:   A privacy-preserving CODIS DNA profile matching protocol.  a, Today, short tandem repeat (STR) profiles collected from potentially innocent individuals are sent to a central CODIS database to check for matches, where they may be retained. b, One way to provide anonymity to exonerated (unmatched) profiles is to load a private copy of the central database onto every field device, but this introduces security risks for the local database. c, Our privacy-preserving search protocol enables agents to query a central CODIS database while hiding the query from the central database.

More importantly, the central database learns nothing about the queried profile, and thus cannot retain it. Our approach paves the way to implement privacy-preserving DNA profile searching in CODIS databases and any CODIS-like system.

Blindenbach, J.A., Jagadeesh, K.A., Bejerano, G. et al. Avoiding genetic racial profiling in criminal DNA profile databases. Nat Comput Sci1,272–279 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43588-021-00058-3

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