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Law Enforcement and Genetic Data: A Discussion for Journalists

The Hastings Center, in partnership with the Center for ELSI Resources & Analysis (CERA), presented an online discussion for journalists, “Law Enforcement and Genetic Data” on October 26.

View transcript here.

DNA has been a powerful crime-solving tool for decades, but law enforcement’s ability to harness it for investigative purposes has grown immensely in recent years. This is due primarily to the massive amount of genetic data now housed in both government-run and private databases, as well as the emergence of new techniques to exploit these vast resources. DTC genetic testing expands the power of forensic searches. Law enforcement access to personal or family genetic information raises ethical concerns. Yet, neither the collection of genetic samples nor their analysis or use by law enforcement has been subject to significant regulation in the United States. What limits, if any, should be placed on law enforcement’s access to DNA data from DTC companies, health care providers, and researchers?

Moderator: Sarah Zhang, staff writer, The Atlantic, covering science.

Panelist: Ellen Wright Clayton, an internationally recognized leader in the field of law and genomics who holds appointments in Vanderbilt University’s medical school and law school, as well as the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society. She is a Hastings Center fellow.

Panelist: CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist for Parabon Nanolabs, heading the Genetic Genealogy Services for law enforcement unit.

Resources for this discussion:

“Law Enforcement and Genetic Data,” James W. Hazel and Ellen Wright Clayton, The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefings

Migrant DNA: Context, Ethics, and Legal Issues, ELSI Friday Forum

This was the second in a series of four online discussions for journalists taking place in the fall of 2021. The 2021 series, Genomics in Society: New Developments, New Questions, aims to inform journalists about the ethical, legal, and social (ELSI) implications of new research in genomics; discuss story ideas on genomics and its ELSI issues; and connect journalists and ELSI experts and resources. The other events in this year’s series are:

Genomics, Human Behavior, and Social Outcomes – October 12, 2021

Precision Medicine Research, “All of Us”, and Inclusion – November 16, 2021

Addressing Racism in Medical Research and Publishing – November 30, 2021

The Hastings Center in 2021 launched an annual “bioethics for journalists” discussion series. It is supported by the Callahan Public Programs, named in honor of Daniel Callahan, co-founder of The Hastings Center. Each year, Hastings will join forces with a prominent partner to bring the most cutting-edge ethical issues in science and health to journalists.