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Policy for Genetic Genealogy

The US Department of Justice has issued an interim policy governing the use of genetic genealogy investigative tools, CNET reports.

In the past year, genetic genealogy has helped crack a number of cold cases and provide leads on more recent crimes. Law enforcement, in particular, used the technique to home in on a suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo in the Golden State Killer case, who was then arrested.

But the technique has raised privacy concerns, especially as it often relies on searching public databases to match crime scene samples to potential family members to then zero in on a related suspect. Mother Jones noted earlier this year that there is little oversight of how police use genetic genealogy and that practices vary by jurisdiction.

In its interim policy, the DOJ lays out criteria for using forensic genetic genealogy, including that it largely be limited to investigations of violent crimes or unidentified human remains and that it be conducted only if no match is found in CODIS, the FBI's DNA database.

"We cannot fulfill our mission if we cannot identify the perpetrators," Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen says in a statement. "Forensic genetic genealogy gets us that much closer to being able to solve the formerly unsolvable. But we must not prioritize this investigative advancement above our commitments to privacy and civil liberties; and that is why we have released our Interim Policy — to provide guidance on maintaining that crucial balance."

The interim policy goes into effect at the beginning of November, and a final policy is to be issued sometime next year.

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