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Police rendering suspect photos from DNA samples raises concerns

Police in the US recently combined “two existing dystopian technologies in a brand new way to violate civil liberties,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit defending civil liberties, has claimed.

A police force in California recently employed the new practice of taking a DNA sample from a crime scene and running it through a service that guesses the perpetrator's face. According to a press release, the service is provided by the US company Parabon NanoLabs.

The rendered image is then plugged into the face recognition software to build a suspect list.

“Simply put: police are using DNA to create a hypothetical and not at all accurate face, then using that face as a clue on which to base investigations into crimes. Not only is this full dice-roll policing, it also threatens the rights, freedom, or even the life of whoever is unlucky enough to look a little bit like that artificial face,” the EFF claims.

Parabon NanoLabs is a DNA technology company in Northern Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping and genetic genealogy analysis. It claims to have built the machine learning model for building faces from DNA data.

“Send us a human DNA sample, and, using Snapshot, we will produce a forensic profile containing predictions about the physical traits of its source,” the company claims on its website.

According to the EFF, this company has assisted law enforcement since 2014.

“The process is yet to be independently audited, and scientists have affirmed that predicting face shapes – particularly from DNA samples – is not possible,” the EFF claims.

With no federal rules prohibiting this practice and limited oversight, privacy advocates call for a complete ban on the government use of such facial recognition technology.

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