An ancestry website that allows users to upload their DNA profile in the hopes of finding relatives came under fire recently for restricting law enforcement access to their data. However, they also came under fire for allowing law enforcement to access their data. Whether you are for or against using this type of information for law enforcement purposes, the technique has proven useful in several cases.
Golden State Killer Nabbed Using DNA Website
A serial killer who had managed to avoid authorities for years was captured after a relative uploaded their DNA to GEDMatch, an online database that allows people to locate distant relatives. Law enforcement uploaded samples found at crime scenes to the ancestry database which helped authorities locate what would have been the equivalent of third cousins to the killer. A scientific study speculated that more than 60% of white Americans have a distantly related relative who has uploaded their DNA sample to GEDMatch or a similar site. The Golden State Killer was linked to 50 rapes and 13 murders throughout the 70s and 80s.
GEDMatch Updates Terms of Service Policies
GEDMatch has updated its terms of service policies and will restrict law enforcement from accessing the millions of profiles on their site. While law enforcement is understandably disappointed, the question of whether or not the tactic is a violation of privacy laws remains important to convincingly decide. Additionally, it could impact potential users’ decision to upload their information at all, which is likely why ancestry sites are curbing access to the information. Instead of giving law enforcement free access to their genetic profiles, GEDMatch will allow users to opt in or out of the program that allows them access.
Police have successfully used ancestry databases to solve dozens of homicides and other crimes in which DNA was left at the scene.
How Law Enforcement Uses Genealogy Matching
For anyone who has watched TV programs dealing with serial killers, you know that the trick to catching one is whittling down the suspect pool to a manageable degree. Law enforcement uses all kinds of techniques to do this, including the often dramatized and controversial use of suspect profiles (behavioral sciences). But DNA can do much the same thing and perhaps more accurately. If law enforcement is allowed access to these profiles, it will allow them to deliver entire families to detectives who can then focus on members of a familial group.
While there has been some success in using genealogy matching, it doesn’t always work. Law enforcement will often grade the hits they get on these sites to determine whether or not pursuing the suspect in this fashion is worthwhile.
Others, however, are concerned with privacy issues. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, companies like GEDMatch cannot risk alienating their customers by freely giving out their genetic information.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been accused of a crime, hiring a skilled West Palm Beach criminal attorney protects you from sloppy or illegal prosecutions and police work. Talk to The Skier Law Firm, P.A. today and set up an appointment.