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Thu Jun 13, 2019, 03:33 AM

Genealogy companies could struggle to keep clients' data from police

Blocking access may drive law enforcement to seek more expansive search warrants

ILLUSION OF PRIVACY GEDMatch, a public genealogy website that police have used to solve murders, has changed its rules on police use. That move could hurt, rather than help, efforts to protect DNA information in databases owned by private companies, experts fear.


After police used DNA sleuthing techniques to arrest a teenage suspect in Utah accused of assault, a public genealogy website shut off most police access in May, following public outcry. That move by GEDMatch to protect the privacy of its users could backfire, some experts warn, creating more privacy issues, not fewer.

Forensic genetic genealogy — the use of genetic databases by police to find potential suspects through family members’ DNA — first caught attention as a crime-fighting tool in April 2018. That’s when police used it to identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the suspected Golden State Killer, an elusive serial killer who terrorized California with multiple murders, rapes and assaults in the 1970s and ’80s (SN Online: 4/29/18).

That case opened the door for other investigators, and in the year since, the technique has been used to charge at least 50 people, including three women, with murder or rape in cases involving more than 90 victims. Jury selection is set to begin June 11 in the trial of William Earl Talbott II. He was one of the first people arrested after a genetic genealogy search, and is accused of killing a young Canadian couple in 1987 (SN: 6/23/18, p. 11). At least three other people tracked down through genetic genealogy searches have already been convicted of their crimes and sentenced to between 80 years and life in prison.

Most of those cases were solved when police matched a portion of crime scene DNA to that of a suspects’ distant relatives in GEDMatch, a free genealogy website where people can upload DNA data. Genetic genealogists then used birth, death and other records to build family trees that gave investigators leads to follow. Finally, the surreptitious collection of suspects’ DNA from discarded cigarettes, napkins, cups and other items led investigators to make the arrests.


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Reply Genealogy companies could struggle to keep clients' data from police (Original post)
Judi Lynn Jun 13 OP
Sherman A1 Jun 13 #1

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Thu Jun 13, 2019, 06:49 AM

1. I was thinking of doing one of these tests and then the news broke

About police use of them for their goals and I questioned the privacy of the whole thing. So no DNA genealogy for me until there are better than rock solid guaranteed policies and laws to govern the individual’s privacy from both government and corporate uses.

This is one of many reasons I support Andrew Yang for President. He has a policy proposal for data privacy and sharing that stars from the premise that our data belongs to us.

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