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Avoiding genetic racial profiling in criminal DNA profile databases

A preprint version of the article is available at bioRxiv.

Abstract

DNA profiling has become an essential tool for crime solving and prevention, and CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) criminal investigation databases have flourished at the national, state and even local level. However, reports suggest that the DNA profiles of all suspects searched in these databases are often retained, which could result in racial profiling. Here, we devise an approach to both enable broad DNA profile searches and preserve exonerated citizens’ privacy through a real-time privacy-preserving procedure to query CODIS databases. Using our approach, an agent can privately and efficiently query a suspect’s DNA profile device in the field, learning only whether the profile matches against any database profile. More importantly, the central database learns nothing about the queried profile, and thus cannot retain it. Our approach paves the way to implement privacy-preserving DNA profile searching in CODIS databases and any CODIS-like system.

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Fig. 1: A privacy-preserving CODIS DNA profile matching protocol.
Fig. 2: Overview of the cryptographic protocol for comparing STR profiles.
Fig. 3: Performance of privacy-preserving CODIS protocol as a function of database size.

Data availability

All of the measurements reported in this paper, together with the code, have been deposited in Zenodo35. The input data used for the performance measurements were synthetically generated based on current CODIS specifications (Methods). The data-generation script is included with the Zenodo repository along with instructions on how to reproduce the experimental evaluation. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code used for all performance evaluation is freely available under an MIT license in the private-codis GitHub repository (https://github.com/jBlinden/private-codis). Both the code and the raw measurements reported in this paper have been deposited at Zenodo35.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Case and D. Boneh for helpful discussions in an early phase of this project and A. Regev for support (K.A.J.). This work was also supported by the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP) Undergraduate Research Initiative (J.A.B.), the Stanford A.I. Lab (G.B.), NSF CNS-1917414 (D.J.W.) and a University of Virginia SEAS Research Innovation Award (D.J.W.).

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Authors

Contributions

J.A.B., K.A.J., G.B. and D.J.W. designed the study, analyzed results and wrote the manuscript. J.A.B. wrote software for the analysis with input from K.A.J., G.B. and D.J.W.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Gill Bejerano or David J. Wu.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Computational Science thanks Denise Syndercombe Court, Tara C. Matise and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Fernando Chirigati was the primary editor on this article and managed its editorial process and peer review in collaboration with the rest of the editorial team.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Layered DFA for equality test.

This DFA computes the equality-check function gv (w) that outputs 1 if v=w and 0 otherwise. In particular, for a vector \({\boldsymbol{v}} = (v_1, \ldots ,v_n) \in \left\{ {0,1} \right\}^n\), this DFA only accepts the input \({\boldsymbol{w}} = \left( {w_1, \ldots ,w_n} \right) \in \left\{ {0,1} \right\}^n\) where vi=wi for all 1 ≤ in. We use this DFA to decide whether there is a match at a single STR locus. If we denote the single start state as ‘layer 0’, the two states one can arrive at from layer 0 after reading the first bit as ‘layer 1’, etc. we see that this DFA has n+1 layers, such that after reading i bits, it can only be in one of the two states in layer i.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Layered DFA for thresholding.

This DFA computes the threshold function \(h_{\left( {a_1, \ldots ,a_n} \right),k}\) for the k=1 case. Namely, \(h_{\left( {a_1, \ldots ,a_n} \right),k}\left( {b_1, \ldots ,b_n} \right)\) outputs 1 if ai=bi for all but at most k indices 1 ≤ in. In other words, for any sequence of bits (a1,…,an){0,1}n, this DFA accepts if the input b1,…,bn satisfies bi=ai for all but at most one index i. For instance, in this work, we use this DFA to decide whether a DNA profile matches against a database record on at least 19 out of 20 loci (that is, the setting where k=1 and n=20) as well as the other configurations. Here, the ith input bit bi{0,1} is the (blinded) equality bit denoting whether there is a match in the ith STR locus (between the agent device’s query and the central database’s record). In our protocol, this (blinded) equality bit is computed using the equality-test DFA from Extended Data Fig. 1. The bits a1,…,an in the function description \(h_{\left( {a_1, \ldots ,a_n} \right),k}\) are the blinding values chosen by the server. Recall that the blinding is introduced to hide from the client all information on whether there was a match at STR locus i between the database server’s profile and the client’s query. The client only learns whether its query matches the record or not, and nothing more. Much like Extended Data Fig. 1, this DFA has n+1 layers, such that after reading i bits, the computation can only be in one of the (at most) 3 states of layer i.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 3

Statistical source data.

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Blindenbach, J.A., Jagadeesh, K.A., Bejerano, G. et al. Avoiding genetic racial profiling in criminal DNA profile databases. Nat Comput Sci 1, 272–279 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43588-021-00058-3

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