Law Enforcement Says Goodbye To Using DNA Website to Crack Cold Cases
DNA Website Rules are Changing
Cristal M Clark
It’s all the rage, these genealogy websites helping millions of people learn just where their people actually came from, you might have grown up thinking you were for instance Irish only to learn that you are French.
One well known website also allowed for law enforcement to use the DNA users submitted to help crack cold cases. Back in 2018 California authorities revealed that police had submitted DNA from a crime scene into a consumer DNA database, where information about distant relatives helped them identify the Golden State Killer a man who had eluded law enforcement for decades.
At the time everyone collectively wondered, if that was even legal.
That put GEDmatch, a free website where people share their DNA profiles in hopes of finding relatives at the center of an argument as to whether or not using this DNA tactic for solving cold cases was legal.
The good news is that using this tactic it helped law enforcement solve over 50 cold cases involving murder and/or rapes.
Now as the smoke has cleared and everyone has their footing on solid ground, the rules of engagement are about to change.
GEDmatch, had faced criticism for allowing police to search profiles without users’ permission, and decided that it would rather make sure members understood explicitly how investigators were using the site. So, it altered its terms of service to automatically exclude all members from law enforcement searches and left it to them to opt in.
Overnight, the number of profiles available to law enforcement dropped from more than 1 million to zero. If people click a police-shield icon on GEDmatch it will then allow authorities to see their profile, either way, this leaves cases more difficult to solve.
After entering a suspect’s DNA profile into the site, the results are reviewed, experts assess the likelihood of law enforcement being able to determine the suspect’s identity using what is called genetic genealogy.
Now law enforcement and researchers are trying to convince the public to take action. These groups hope to persuade more Americans to obtain their DNA profiles from direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies and share them publicly, including with law enforcement, on databases like GEDmatch. One direct-to-consumer company, FamilyTreeDNA, allows law enforcement to search its database, but charges for it and limits results.
Some people are worried that their DNA profiles will be hacked or used against their wishes, whether in the pursuit of a criminal or in the sale of data to health care companies. There are also concerns that DNA sharing will lead to the end of anonymity.
Which is understandable, but also perplexing if the same individuals who are claiming to be worried now have already submitted DNA to these sites. Additionally, these sites should never share any DNA with health care companies, at least not until things change in the US and health care is not a profitable business anymore and changes to be just health care.
What truly surprises me is that these DNA databases can be hacked at any moment and people are cool with sharing their DNA on them anyway, until law enforcement has access to them, then we question the legality of law enforcement.
As for law enforcement, this change will only slow them a little, they will still be working to solve every cold case that they have.
Cristal M Clark