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To Peek at the Code

An algorithm that gauges the likelihood that someone's DNA is within a complex mix of DNA is to undergo scrutiny by criminal defense experts, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Post, the tool, Cybergenetics' TrueAllele, was first used in a criminal trial in 2009, but as the company has argued that its algorithm is a trade secret, prosecutors, defendants, and others have been unable to delve into how it works. The reliability of a similar tool, STRmix, came under scrutiny in New York in 2016.

In this case, Bryan Kennedy, a Fairfax County, Virginia, public defender, argues that without seeing the TrueAllele source code, it would be difficult to assess whether his client, Clark Watson, was accurately identified in a 2014 armed robbery case, the Post says. It adds that in response to a subpoena from Kennedy, Cybergenetics said experts could review the code for a fee and if they signed a non-disclosure agreement, among other restrictions, conditions Kennedy said were out of reach for his client and could preclude experts from testifying at trial.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Dontae Bugg has ordered Cybergenetics to comply with the subpoena without the conditions, but said the code could not be publicly released, the Post reports, adding that the code's review by an expert has been delayed by the pandemic. It notes that a judge in Pennsylvania has similarly ruled the source code had to be released to a defense team there for examination.