Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Little More About DNA and Criminal Investigations


DNA testing as used in criminal investigations is very similar to the use of fingerprints and the testing for alcohol consumption. In the United States, there is a long line of court cases challenging all three types of tests. Subsequently, because of the court decisions, there are rules that criminal investigative agencies must follow when using any of the three types of evidence in court. Those rules are fairly strict and any deviation from the rules may cause the criminal prosecutors to lose their case and allow the suspect to go free.

The current plethora of criminal investigation TV series would lead you to believe that the investigative agencies merely have to gather the "evidence" to have criminals convicted. These shows portray the investigative agencies as "solving" the crimes in the same way that detective shows used to do so in the past. Matching fingerprints, producing an alcohol test or matching DNA does not automatically produce a criminal conviction. For example, if you refuse to take a sobriety test, in most U.S. jurisdictions, you could suffer some severe consequences.

Now, what could happen if you take a genealogically motivated DNA test? Well, if you are criminal, it would be the same as voluntarily giving your fingerprints to a law enforcement agency. So, if you plan on becoming a criminal, providing a DNA test falls into the same category.

As I sort-of explained in my last post, even if you voluntarily give a DNA sample to a genealogy company, there is really no practical way the sample and the testing results could be used in a criminal prosecution absent another test done by the investigative agency that showed you were the one submitting the test. The reason is that when the genealogy DNA test is administered, there are no procedural controls over the way the test is conducted. You could have submitted someone else's DNA or even the DNA from your dog or cat. Of course, you might also have done the test correctly and the sample really is you. But that would have to be proven in a court of law.

At best, an investigative agency might be able to use a matching DNA test from a genealogy company to make you a suspect in an investigation. But it is unlikely that the genealogical test alone would help to establish your guilt or innocence. It is much more likely that a criminal would have left some other sample of their DNA at a crime scene that would be used with a properly obtained sample after arrest than that the DNA would be used from a genealogy test.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Is genealogically submitted DNA discoverable in a criminal investigation?

http://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/local/police-can-request-your-dna-from-23andme-ancestry/630565206
A lead online news article from Jacksonville, Florida CBS47, Fox30 Action News JAX,  is getting some traction with the alarming headline that police could gain access to DNA data given to the large genealogical DNA testing companies such as 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com. As a 39-year veteran trial attorney, all I can say is well duh? What did anyone really expect? If you read the fine print when you voluntarily give a DNA sample for testing, say from Ancestry.com, you will see that you have agreed to that eventuality.

However, there is a simple legal problem involved in using DNA samples from genealogy companies: how do they know you are the one supplying the sample? In order for physical evidence, such as a DNA sample to be used in a criminal prosecution, it must be proved to have an uninterrupted chain of custody. Here is an explanation of the chain of custody from the Office for Victims of Crime of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
To maintain chain of custody, you must preserve evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court. To prove the chain of custody, and ultimately show that the evidence has remained intact, prosecutors generally need service providers who can testify—
  • That the evidence offered in court is the same evidence they collected or received.
  • To the time and date the evidence was received or transferred to another provider.
  • That there was no tampering with the item while it was in custody.
As the article further shows,
A challenge in proving chain of custody can arise when service providers fail to properly initial and date the evidence or fail to place a case number with it.
Since a DNA sample submitted for genealogical purposes is "collected" by the person submitting the sample, there is no real way to "prove" that the sample actually came from the person listed as submitting the sample to the company. The only way to prove that the sample is from a specific individual would be to retest the individual suspect. But let's suppose that in the course of a criminal investigation, the investigative agency (police is a rather non-specific term) decides to send the results of a DNA sample to one or more of the online DNA companies for a match. Could the investigative agency do this? Obviously yes. Especially if the agency obtained s search warrant from an applicable court. Could the company, Ancestry.com or whatever, be compelled to disclose whether or not someone in their database matched the agency's sample? Hmm. That is a little bit more problematical. Given the current status of the law, my opinion would be yes, but the agency might be required to pay for matching the test results.

But then, the more important question is whether or not the agency could use the DNA test in a criminal case presented to the court? Now, we get to the issue of chain of custody. Who handled the DNA sample after it was submitted the DNA sample to the company? I can guess that the company has records after they received the sample, but there are no records about the time before the sample was sent. End of story.

The news story is nothing but a really poorly sensationalized scare tactic to sell news.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Voice recognition software: Boon or Bane?


For me, functional voice recognition software has been one of most elusive goals of my many years' fascination with computers. I always dreamed that by talking, the computer program would magically convert my speech into text thereby creating a more effortless way to write. But the reality has always been far from the imagined goal. Until quite recently, the transcriptions from voice recognition or VR software have been cranky and most of the time more trouble than they are worth.

From time-to-time over the years, I have written about my experiences with voice recognition software and now it is time, once again to return to the subject. The programs available today are just barely adequate. However, to achieve the present level of marginal functionality, both the hardware and the software had to reach a certain level of sophistication and speed that is only, just now, becoming available. If you want to use voice recognition software, I suggest you will need the fastest computer you can possibly afford and a relatively expensive software program and even then, the product will still be barely satisfactory.

There are a number of different levels of voice recognition software in common use today. The most basic level, almost a toy, involves recognizing voice commands and some speech. Good examples of these types of programs are Apple's iOS program Siri and Google's Android program Assistant. These programs are designed to provide vocal interaction with a computer but provide only marginal text recognition. We use these programs for dictating short text messages and have a good time laughing at the mistranslations and mistakes.

The next level includes programs such as the integrated voice recognition software in both the Apple MacOS operating system and Microsoft's Windows operating system. Both of these programs to an adequate level of recognizing the spoken word, but both have only very rudimentary editing capabilities. From my experience, most people are not even aware that their computer can transcribe speech into a variety of existing programs. The lack of basic editing capabilities renders these programs useless for other than casual note-taking.

Many years ago, IBM initiated a program to develop speech recognition. This culminated in a program called Via Voice. Eventually, the program was evidently abandoned and the program was sold off to Nuance Software. Nuance has very slowly improved their VR programs over the years, culminating in programs for both Windows and Mac, now called simply Dragon but previously known as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Unfortunately, several of the low level, rudimentary programs such as Siri and Google Assistant, are touted as voice recognition software. If a program produces text that requires more time to edit than it takes to type by hand, then it is useless. That is the case with Apple, Microsoft and Google at this point in time. The following is an example of using Apple's voice dictation program to read this paragraph.
Unfortunately,Several of the full level,Riddimentary program such as SiriAnd Google assistant,Are touted as a voice recognition software.If a program produces textThat requires more time toEditThen it takes to type by hand,Then it is useless.That is the case with Apple,MicrosoftAnd GoogleAt this point in timeThe following is an example of using apples voice dictation program to read this paragraph.
As you can see, the program interprets commas as periods and messes up the word spacing. To go back and "fix" the dictation is a waste of time. If I wanted to actually use this dictated text or make modifications, I would spend an inordinately large amount of time doing so. I have a hard enough time editing what I write without throwing in a bunch of time-consuming errors.

That brings us down to the only consumer-level product available today: Nuance's Dragon. First of all, it is a relatively expensive program. The Mac version is presently $300.00 and upgrades are usually nearly as expensive as re-purchasing the program. In addition, the program is buggy and needs to be restarted periodically to stop the program from adding in random characters. The Mac version bugs seem to persist over upgrade versions. But it is apparently almost the only game in town. In addition, to add insult to injury, the program is licensed to only one computer or device and so people like me who use two or three or more personally owned computers are limited to using the program on only one unless we want to spend another $300 to add another computer. Interestingly, the PC version starts at $59.00.

During the past few months, I have been using Dragon on my Mac to write many of my blog posts. I am certain that no one could tell when I am using the software and when I am not. For me, the increased level of productivity and speed is worth the price, but I am surprised that there is not a little bit more competition out there. Voice recognition is becoming ubiquitous, but until the editing capability catches up with the recognition, the programs will not replace Dragon.

One last note. There are a lot of different versions of Dragon on sale on Amazon.com. These are almost all older, even less useful versions of the program. Be careful when purchasing the program.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Photo+Story Competition at #RootsTech 2018

https://www.rootstech.org/photo-and-story?et_cid=53070576&et_rid=762312453&linkid=BannerImage&cid=em-rt-8012
Read the competition details, and then submit the perfect photo and story combo by clicking the button below. Don’t forget to share your submission on social media using #RootsTech. See the link to the competition page above for details.

Friday, November 17, 2017

How would you like to live in a condo built over a cemetery?

https://www.ksl.com/?sid=46199149&nid=148&title=family-concerned-about-potential-relocation-of-gravesites-as-cemetery-buyer-eyes-development
If you have ever unsuccessfully looked for burial information about an ancestor, you should realize that cemeteries and burial plots are not necessarily permanent. The above news story points out what can happen when a cemetery is on privately owned land. Even cemeteries that are owned by public entities such as towns or cities can be subject to changes in land development. In my own ancestral lines several of the graves turned out to be unmarked and in one case the grave was moved long after the person died. In the above case, the development company intends to move the graves.But this is not always the case. See "New website for Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries."

In the above case also, think about the consequences of having the developer move the graves. What records might be available to show the new locations of the existing graves in the developed cemetery? This important understand from the standpoint of doing genealogical research, that any particular record concerning an individual may have either never been created or may have been lost.

As I pointed out in the title to this post, how would you like to live on an abandoned cemetery site? By the way, you may be living on an abandoned cemetery site and not know it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

FamilySearch to require users to sign in


Beginning December 13, 2017, for a number of very good reasons, the highly visited FamilySearch.org website will begin requiring users to sign in before using the website. The announcement came in a blog post entitled, "FamilySearch Free Sign-in Offers Greater Subscriber Experiences and Benefits." Quoting from the post:
Beginning December 13, 2017, patrons visiting FamilySearch.org will see a prompt to register for a free FamilySearch account or to sign in to their existing account to continue enjoying all the free expanded benefits FamilySearch has to offer. Since its launch in 1999, FamilySearch has added millions of users, billions of various historical records, and many fun, new features like Family Tree, Memories, mobile apps, digital books, and dynamic help. In order to accommodate continued growth of these and future free services, FamilySearch must assure all its partners that its content is offered in a safe and secure online environment. Patrons creating a free account and signing in fulfills that need.

Patron sign in will also enable FamilySearch to satisfy the ongoing need for user authentication. This authentication can deliver rich, personalized discovery, collaboration, and help experiences. Simply put, signed-in visitors can access more searchable content and enjoy more personalized services.
The online world is rapidly changing as circumstances mandate a higher level of website security. Requiring all of the users to sign on will not change the user experience but it will help to preserve the integrity of the website.

An Emotional Reunion between mother and daughter from MyHeritage


MyHeritage.com has shared an emotional reunion between a mother and a daughter who met for the first time on Good Morning America. This all came about as a result of the DNA test from MyHeritage.com. Quoting from MyHeritage,
Angie was a teenage mother who placed her baby Meribeth for adoption in 1986. She never got to hold Meribeth after she gave birth to her, and she always hoped that she was adopted by a loving family. For thirty years, they both wondered about one another. MyHeritage DNA enabled Meribeth and Angie to finally find one another.

Link to video: http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/woman-meets-birth-mother-1st-time-30-years/story?id=51173564
This is a remarkable illustration of the power of genealogically related DNA testing when coupled with a huge collection of online family trees.