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Suspect image based on DNA phenotyping pulled back by Edmonton police

Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement
Suspect image based on DNA phenotyping pulled back by Edmonton police

Edmonton Police Service has asked the public to help identify a suspect from a computer-generated image based on DNA phenotyping, and then quickly walked back the request.

The suspect is sought for an unsolved violent 2019 sexual assault in the Canadian city.

Detective Colleen Maynes of the EPS Sexual Assault Section called the measure “essentially a last resort,” which is being used for its potential to generate leads in a cold case.

Enyinnah Okere, the COO of the EPS’ Community Safety and Well-being Bureau, published an explanation for the decision to use DNA phenotyping two days after the image was released. The statement describes the brutality of the attack and the lack of leads, or evidence that could generate leads.

The force was at least somewhat aware of “the legitimate questions raised about the suitability of this type of technology,” but did not adequately consider the risks and unintended consequences of its use for Edmonton’s Black community, according to the statement.

The initial release did refer to the limitations of the technology, and that it was being used as a last resort, but EPS subsequently removed the synthetic suspect image included with the release, and says it will review its internal processes.

The image was generated by Parabon NanoLabs from the DNA, given an age estimate and an average physique.

The release itself stated the suspect’s ancestry is East African, and includes analysis that suggests that ancestry is a 50.43 percent likelihood.

Representatives of digital rights groups Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Vice Motherboard that the approach could exacerbate existing racial biases and lead to vigilantism. Parabon NanoLabs shared case studies of criminal investigations solved with DNA phenotyping with the publication.

CBC reports EPS paid Parabon $1,700 (presumably CAD) to perform the DNA analysis.

Corsight previewed a DNA to Face product similar to Parabon’s at the beginning of 2022.

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