Legal Aid Society


Op-Ed: Albany Must Reject Cries to Codify Familial DNA Searching

Earlier this month a court struck down regulations that allow for “familial searching” in New York State, but now some lawmakers are calling to codify the controversial practice as law. Allison Lewis, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Homicide Defense Task Force and DNA Unit, makes the case against the invasive genetic technique in a new op-ed in the New York Daily News.

Familial searching is where law enforcement scans DNA databases for genetic information looking for the potential relatives of someone whose genetic information is in the database. When a search for an exact match to a DNA sample comes up without a match, a familial DNA search may bring up information that could pertain to a sibling, child, parent or other blood relative.

Because of biased policing methods such as “stop and frisk,” the DNA database contains an overrepresentation of people of color.  Familial searching magnifies and enhances that bias by making family members who have no criminal records subject to police investigations.

“Not all New Yorkers experience the harms of the criminal justice system the same way,” she writes. “Communities of color, in particular, have known for years the damage done by invasive surveillance and over-policing. Because familial searching utilizes the convicted offender database (including broken windows and quality-of-life violators), the method promises to extend that disgraceful legacy.”

“All New Yorkers want to prioritize safety, which requires striking a balance with privacy. But we must remain vigilant to strike that balance the same way for all New Yorkers,” Lewis continues. “Albany lawmakers have considered familial searching over the years, but repeatedly left it on the legislative cutting room floor. It seems like the perfect place for this inequitable policy.”

Read the full piece here.