Use of DNA-testing website to identify ‘Golden State Killer’ raises privacy concerns

Avatar By Delila James | 3 years ago

Using a genealogy website to identify and arrest a man suspected of being California’s “Golden State Killer” is raising potential privacy concerns, according to a report by ABC News.

In the long-cold case, law enforcement officials used the public third-party genealogy database, GEDmatch, to match the unknown killer’s DNA collected from multiple crime scenes with relatives, building a family tree of suspect Joseph DeAngelo, now 72. DeAngelo was taken into custody last week.

“We understand that the GEDmatch database was used to help identify the Golden State Killer,” the company said, in an April 27 statement. “Although we were not approached by law enforcement or anyone else about this case or about the DNA, it has always been GEDmatch’s policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses, as set forth in the Site Policy.”

GEDmatch said it is important for users to understand the potential uses of their DNA, “including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes,” adding that people who are concerned about law enforcement using their genetic information should remove or not upload their DNA information to the database.

Popular private direct-to-consumer genealogy sites, such as AncestryDNA and 23AndMe, are a different story and generally do not allow authorities to search their DNA samples without a valid warrant.

Civil liberties advocates are nevertheless concerned that DNA searches could involve law-abiding people in criminal cases because of their family members.

“Everybody is glad to see a case like this solved,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), referring to the arrest in the “Golden State Killer” case. “But we have to be mindful of the precedents that are set, and how innocent people could be affected down the line.”

Stanley added there have been cases of family members wrongly identified as prime suspects in a murder investigation “because of a partial DNA match.”