Monday, February 3, 2014

DNA Errors Found In FBI Database

In a recent article found in the New York Times, “F.B.I. Audit of Database That Indexes DNA Finds Errors in Profiles,” by Joseph Goldstein, talks about errors founds in a national database. The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified nearly 170 profiles that probably contain errors, because of handwriting mistakes or interpretation errors by lab technicians. “The errors identified so far implicate only a tiny fraction of the total DNA profiles in the national database, which holds nearly 14 million profiles, more than 12 million from convicts and suspects, and an additional 527,000 from crime scenes.” Although this situation may sound terrible, the discovery of an error has enabled authorities to recognize new suspects in old cases. “These revelations spotlight how human error can detract from the reliability of the testing process,” said Alan Gardner, the head of Legal Aid’s DNA unit.
Reading about this investigation is terrifying because it is a national database that is used by the FBI. You would think that since it is run by the government there would be no problems or errors. However, realistically there needs to be room for human error as it is a common made mistake. Since lab technicians are the ones that are inputting DNA information, they can still make errors. It is known that the DNA database error is low, because it is the FBI, but the fact that there were errors found, it is shocking. It is also frightening to know that the DNA of criminals is found to be wrong. This shows that not only can major databases crash; they could also provide wrong information, which would result in problems. Since the discovery of the errors, the New York State Police have changed the “search parameters” used to sift through DNA profiles. It seems that there is a problem with the relationship between some of the fields that needs to be cleaned up within the national database. 
There can be many different resolutions on how one can put additional security to assure accuracy. The FBI could conduct two different readings made by different lab technicians to assure that there are no errors when DNA is entered into the database.  For example, after a technician enters the data, the new information needs to be passed on to another lab technician to approve the submission. Peer editing would really not allow room for errors. Another solution is that analysis of the incorrectly entered data should be done and the FBI can put additional security around the fields that were entered incorrectly. I think one of the most beneficial ways that this can be prevented is having daily and weekly reports provided by the FBI system to show all of the new data that was entered. This would ensure for review of new information in the database. Although there were not many errors in the database, it is still a problem. I think that the FBI needs to find a solution on how they can prevent this problem in the future.

Goldsetein, Joseph. The New York Times. 
database-  that-indexes-dna-finds-errors-in-profiles.html.  (24 January 2014).

1 comment:

  1. Manual error is absolutely a factor when it comes to the reliability of database systems. However, I interpreted it as a technical management error. According to the article, “F.B.I. Audit of Database That Indexes DNA Finds Errors in Profiles,” it presented the evidential errors that were found in the New York DNA database system, reflecting 166 lawsuits. The majority of these errors are encountered from the manual mistakes or interpretations by the lab technicians. These mistakes were discovered by the F.B.I. in July 2013, through the implementation of new DNA matching software. As a result, it enabled the authorities to discover new suspects in old cases.

    From my perspective, although the shocking manual error is an important lesson to learn from the article, the emphasis of the article could also be on the database storage. According to the article, new findings are introduced in old cases, "discovery has breathed new life into the murder investigation of a man found bludgeoned to death in the Bronx in 1998. It also led to new matches in two rape cases in New York City in the 1990s.” These discoveries are only possible if the New York DNA database had kept their old documents and files. However, since database storage is extremely costly nowadays, authorities, businesses, and other institutions only keep information within their legal requirements. In this case, it is tempting to assume for more errors to be found if the New York DNA database had kept all of its information data since day one. However, the majority ancient data are not updated or even destroyed once they reach their “maturity” date. Therefore, these situations ask for the ideal balance between financial costs and legal requirements, which has always been a common but crucial issue that was dwelled upon.