Home DNA AncestorPrivacy concerns after public genealogy database used to ID “Golden State Killer” suspect
Privacy concerns after public genealogy database used to ID “Golden State Killer” suspect

Privacy concerns after public genealogy database used to ID “Golden State Killer” suspect

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Investigators have revealed they used a public genealogical DNA database to find the ex-policeman they believe is a shadowy serial killer and rapist who terrified California decades ago, calling the technique groundbreaking. But the site’s co-founder said he has privacy concerns after learning that law enforcement used the site and insists that his company does not “hand out data.” Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday after investigators matched crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored by a distant relative in the online database GEDMatch. From there, they narrowed it down to the Sacramento-area grandfather using DNA obtained from material he’d discarded, police said.Paul Holes, the lead investigator on the case, told the Mercury News in San Jose, California, that the investigative team used GEDMatch, a Florida-based website that pools DNA profiles that people upload and share publicly.GEDMatch is a free site where users who have obtained DNA profiles from commercial companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can upload them to expand their search for relatives. Ancestry.com and 23andMe said Thursday that they weren’t involved in the case. Major for-profit companies do not allow law enforcement to access their genetic data unless they get a court order.Holes said officials did not need a court order to access GEDMatch’s database of genetic blueprints.Holes, a cold case expert and retired Contra Costa County District Attorney inspector, said GEDMatch was his team’s biggest tool. Investigators have over the years developed DNA profiles of the then-unidentified “Golden State Killer” suspect from crime scenes, but no matches came up on federal criminal DNA databases, so they turned to the database, reports the Mercury News.But there are privacy concerns as well. There are not strong privacy laws to keep police from trolling ancestry databases, said Steve Mercer, the chief attorney for the forensic division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.  It’s not clear whether people who use public DNA databases like GEDMatch fully understand that it’s possible their DNA could later be used to incriminate a relative. While people may not realize police can use public genealogy websites to solve crimes, it is probably legal, Murphy told the Associated Press.”It seems crazy to say a police officer investigating a very serious crime can’t do something your cousin can do on a Tuesday,” Murphy said. “If an ordinary person can do this, why can’t a cop? On the other hand, if an ordinary person had done this, we might think they shouldn’t.”Law enforcement in several states are authorized to search criminal DNA databases for relative matches on unknown suspect DNA profiles. Some jurisdictions use “familial searching” on federal databases like the FBI’s CODIS, which contains DNA of criminals. Familial DNA searching has made inroads in some U.S. states and other countries in the last decade, leading to high-profile arrests, b


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