Law enforcement officials and prosecutors face a myriad of challenges in managing forensic evidence. Particularly, with the ongoing emergence of new forensic tools and trends, such as Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG), prosecutors and law enforcement agencies must continually re-evaluate the processes they have in place to best protect sensitive forensic evidence and comply with legal requirements.  

Alongside these challenges, FIGG presents many opportunities for law enforcement officials and prosecutors alike. As it continues to gain prominence, agencies must enhance their evidence management protocols to safeguard evidence’s integrity, ensure convictions, and uphold the privacy of individuals. 

In this blog, we’ll examine important considerations for both tracking and managing access to FIGG materials and how technology like digital evidence management systems (DEMS) can help. Specifically, we’ll consider how DEMS technology can support prosecutors and law enforcement with tools to audit FIGG material access, while also improving interoperability across law enforcement agencies and prosecution offices. 

Let’s begin. 

What is FIGG? 

Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy is an emerging forensic technique that uses both genetic testing and genealogical research in tandem to generate investigative leads. Most frequently, this technique is useful for unsolved violent crimes or cases of unidentified human remains. High-profile cases, such as the identification of the Golden State Killer, have been successfully solved with FIGG. 

FIGG uses available DNA in public databases to search for potential biologically related individuals of a contributor to an “evidentiary single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profile.”   

Then, FIGG operates by scrutinizing these specific genetic markers (SNPs) within DNA profiles sourced from crime scenes or unidentified remains. By tracing shared genetic ancestry among individuals, it illuminates potential suspects or persons of interest, providing law enforcement agencies and prosecutors with invaluable leads to pursue in investigations. 

Effectively, this technology is revolutionizing the way investigators and prosecutors consider cases that have hit a dead end. In this way, agencies can continue to pursue truth and justice in cases in which, historically, they remained dormant because of a lack of evidence. 

Key Benefits of FIGG 

So, through this combination of genealogical examination and DNA use, FIGG can offer substantial benefits for both law enforcement investigations and prosecution efforts. 

Tools to Re-Examine Cold Cases 

As mentioned, FIGG equips agencies with new tools to solve outstanding cases and identify suspects in which other evidence has been lacking. FIGG not only revitalizes stagnant investigations but also can breathe new life into the pursuit of justice for victims and their families. 

Expanding the Scope of Investigations 

By analyzing genetic data, investigators can establish familial connections that are not apparent through traditional investigative methods. Effectively, FIGG significantly expands the scope of search capabilities.  

Increasing the Accuracy of Suspect Identification 

FIGG can also help increase the accuracy of suspect identification, potentially speeding up the legal process and reducing the chances of wrongful convictions. This is through the sophisticated family trees and DNA analysis used throughout the aggregation of FIGG materials and the application of FIGG processes. 

The Potential Risks of FIGG  

On the other hand, while FIGG holds enormous potential for helping investigators solve cases like these infamous cold cases, it still has its potential challenges. To effectively use FIGG, it’s imperative to protect the sensitive DNA and data of individuals. In particular, it’s important that FIGG data is only accessed by necessary parties throughout the investigation process.  

There are also many other aspects to consider when implementing FIGG programs at an agency, such as the process of establishing MOUs that serve as indispensable frameworks governing collaboration among stakeholders, delineating roles, responsibilities, and data-sharing protocols.  

The Importance of Secure Evidence Handling 

The potential consequences of improperly handled FIGG materials can be severe. Some of these could include legal challenges that may lead to the exclusion of evidence in court, ethical violations concerning privacy breaches, and resultant reputational damage that undermines public trust. This isn’t to consider the possibility of fines and/or sanctions. Therefore, it is essential for any agencies or offices interacting with FIGG to rigorously adhere to established guidelines. For these reasons, it’s also important to host agency-wide training opportunities on the proper management of FIGG evidence. 

Digital Evidence Management Software – Upholding Privacy in FIGG Investigations 

So, as prosecutors and law enforcement agencies continue to be simultaneously faced with growing caseloads and slimmer staffing, how can they create safeguards to support their agency’s interactions with FIGG? Digital evidence management system (DEMS) software can potentially help, through features that secure documents, audit file access, and more.  

Read more below about some of the potential DEMS features and tools that can support the security and protection of these materials: 

Encryption and Access Controls 

DEMS software can use advanced encryption to secure genetic data against unauthorized access, maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive genetic information throughout the entire investigative process.  

In addition, access control mechanisms within DEMS are specifically crucial when handling FIGG data. These controls restrict access to sensitive genetic information to authorized personnel only, safeguarding against both internal breaches and external threats. 

Audit Logs 

Audit logs are a necessary component of any DEMS software. These logs are implemented to meticulously track all interactions with genetic data or digital evidence, generating logs that detail user identities, timestamps, the method in which files were accessed (e.g., download, viewing, etc.), and more. This tracking not only fortifies the reliability and admissibility of genetic evidence in court but also upholds stringent transparency standards and privacy required when handling FIGG materials. 

Data-Sharing Among Law Enforcement and Prosecutors 

DEMS software can enhance interoperability specifically tailored to the needs surrounding FIGG techniques. This is by facilitating efficient collaboration between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices. This capability allows for the secure exchange and synthesis of genetic evidence across various jurisdictions and departments, ensuring that all key stakeholders have consistent and immediate access to crucial data. Such interoperability is key to constructing well-rounded and robust cases based on genetic genealogy, streamlining the investigative process, minimizing errors, and ultimately contributing to more precise and just legal outcomes. 

Takeaways 

FIGG is a promising tool for law enforcement and prosecutors across the country and the globe. As forensic experts, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies continue to ascertain the best use cases for FIGG and develop processes for using FIGG, it’s paramount for agencies to enact safeguards to protect sensitive DNA samples and profiles. 

DEMS technology can be an invaluable tool in navigating the complexities of the management, storage, and access of FIGG materials during investigations. By safely encrypting files, maintaining strict access controls, generating audit logs, and supporting interoperability across law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial offices, DEMS can improve how FIGG materials are both stored and shared among agencies. 

By supporting the security, accessibility, and integrity of forensic evidence, DEMS technology empowers law enforcement and prosecutors to not only solve cases more efficiently but also uphold the highest standards of justice and ethical responsibility. Ultimately, as we continue to harness the power of technology like FIGG and digital evidence management, we pave the way for a future where justice is both advanced and uncompromised. 

To learn more about how DEMS like CivicDocs can support your agency’s access to digital evidence, click below. 

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