In a split vote, 7-4, New York State’s Commission on Forensic Sciences approved a policy authorizing law-enforcement to investigate the family members of an individual whose DNA does not precisely match crime scene evidence.

The scientific rationale is that a “partial match” between a sample of DNA from a crime scene and the DNA of someone in the state’s DNA databank may implicate a blood relative of that individual.

The New York Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the policy, charging that the new procedure all but invites an abuse of privacy and due process rights by relaxing technical standards for the use of DNA without adequate protection against error and abuse by law enforcement.

“The Commission has opened a Pandora’s Box,” said NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry. “The familial search policy raises provocative questions: Will innocent family members become criminal suspects because a relative’s DNA is a near match with crime scene evidence? Will the police ask, or compel, those family members to submit a DNA sample? And on the basis of an individual’s ‘partial’ DNA match, will other, innocent family members be included in a local suspect watch list or have their own DNA stored in a local police databank?”

The commission members also split, 7-4, on the question of whether the proposed partial-match DNA policy required authorization by the state legislature. The NYCLU contends there are fundamental questions as to whether the policy adopted by the Commission today is authorized under existing law.

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