Initial thoughts on the Golden State Killer case
The past few days have been tough ones for those genealogists who — like The Legal Genealogist — love the ability to integrate DNA results into family history.
It’s been even tougher for those of us who love the utility of the website GEDmatch in doing so — and I am among GEDmatch’s biggest fans.1
The disclosure that law enforcement officers in California had used genealogical databases and particularly GEDmatch to identify, and now arrest, a suspect in a decades-old serial rape-and-murder spree has raised some profound concerns about the legality and ethics of that use.
And even in these early days, it’s crystal clear that there are no easy answers here.
On one hand, it’s impossible not to be thrilled that the Golden State Killer case may finally be closed. This is the name given to a serial killer, serial rapist, and serial burglar who is believed to have committed at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes, and more 120 burglaries in California starting in June of 1976 and ending abruptly in 1986.2 If the charges hold up, if the evidence is really there, if a jury can be found to try the case fairly and convict him, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo may finally pay the price for this crime spree.3
On the other hand, there is something deeply unsettling in the use of test results from what most test-takers consider a recreational use of their DNA by law enforcement in criminal investigations, when they had no idea the police could do such a thing.
This doesn’t just pose a risk that we as test takers may be identified as a crime suspect, that we alone may be impacted. Autosomal DNA is shared by those nearest and dearest to us — this may result in our DNA being used as part of a case against our relatives all the way out to second, third and fourth cousins — including siblings, our children, our grandchildren, even our as-yet-unborn great grandchildren.
Trying to find a balance between those who are cheering this use of DNA databases and those who abhor it as a breach of their — and their family’s — privacy isn’t going to be easy. And we’re only in the early stages of trying to figure this out. To give you an idea of what we’re facing as a research community, the list of questions posed by Leah Larkin, Ph.D., in her blog post “Genealogy and the Golden State Killer”4 is just the starting point in the discussion our community has to have.
Here, for me, in this early stage of this analysis is my bottom line: The hallmark of ethical genealogy is the utmost respect for the privacy of living people and the disclosure of information about living people only with their consent.
We’ve always known that genealogical research of all kinds raises deep ethical concerns when the research involves living people for any reason. And we have ethical codes in place to guide our decision-making in those cases, such as the National Genealogical Society’s Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others, which advises in relevant part:
Aware that sharing information or data with others is important and that it needs continuing support and encouragement, genealogists and family historians consistently
• respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another… as a living private person; …
• inform people who provide information about their families how it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items;
• require evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing or publication of information about themselves;
• convey personal identifying information about living people — such as age, home address, genetic information, occupation, or activities — only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to; …
• are sensitive to the hurt that information discovered or conclusions reached in the course of genealogical research may bring to other persons and consider that in deciding whether to share or publish such information and conclusions.5
Applying these basic, common-sense rules, we understand that the stories of living people aren’t ours to tell. So when the combination of Grandpa and Grandma’s marriage record and Aunt Mary’s birth record makes it abundantly clear that the bedding preceded the wedding, for example, we understand that Aunt Mary doesn’t want that fact plastered all over the internet. It’s her story, not ours.
DNA testing as a genealogical research tool raises those same ethical concerns as well, in spades. The ability of this resource to tell us what no paper document can — that, for example, the father identified on a birth certificate isn’t the biological father at all — raises a huge potential to disrupt the lives of living people.
And that means that using this tool ethically must be our highest priority.
As with all of our research that discloses information about living people, the hallmark of ethical DNA testing is informed consent. People have to know (or at least have the opportunity to know) in advance what their test results may be used for. Nobody I know uploaded their data to GEDmatch knowing that it could be used by police to look for suspects in criminal cases.
I have no objection philosophically or ethically — and I believe most genealogists have no fundamental disagreement — with using genealogical DNA testing data to solve mysteries of many kinds:
• identifying war dead to repatriate the remains of service members;
• identifying the John and Jane Does who lie unknown in morgues and pauper’s graves;
• even perhaps identifying crime victims.
All of these uses help reconnect families, and reconnecting families — even after death — is one of the most compelling reasons why people choose to do genealogical DNA testing.
But allowing data from tests taken to reconnect families to be used without advance notice and informed consent for investigative purposes by law enforcement with the aim of finding the perpetrators of crime — a move guaranteed to shatter the families whose loved ones are accused because their DNA was used in those investigations — doesn’t sit well at all.
And it’s even more unsettling that this was done without a search warrant, without court approval, without oversight of any kind. There are laws in place in many states — including in California — that require the police to get court approval — a warrant, based on probable cause — even to search their own law enforcement databases when what they’re trying to do is find familial DNA (a link to the criminal through the use of the DNA of a family member).
Because some genealogical databases like GEDmatch are open to the public, it may be legal to search them for evidence in a criminal case… but what’s legal isn’t always what’s right.
DNA testing for genealogy has always been like a china shop. I think of the DNA results — the links that allow us to reconnect our families — as delicate and priceless vases on glass shelves.
Right now, there’s a bull loose in that china shop.
At this beginning of this hard discussion that our community must have, my own view is … we’d better start figuring out how to rein that bull in before those often irreplaceable vases are broken, forever.
- See Judy G. Russell, “Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Aug 2012 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 28 Apr 2018). See also ibid., “Updated look at GedMatch,” posted 26 Mar 2017. ↩
- See Dan Barry, Tim Arango and Richard A. Oppel Jr., “With Taunts and Guile, the Golden State Killer Left a Trail of Horror,” New York Times, 28 Apr 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/ : accessed 28 Apr 2018). ↩
- Remember, we have to say this may be the case here: DeAngelo has only been charged. He has not been tried or convicted. ↩
- Leah Larkin, Ph.D., “Genealogy and the Golden State Killer,” The DNA Geek, posted 26 Apr 2018 (http://thednageek.com/ : accessed 28 Apr 2018). ↩
- National Genealogical Society, Guidelines for Sharing Information with Others, PDF online (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 28 Apr 2018). ↩
Thanks for this, Judy. DNA is a powerful, and very personal, tool; and I agree we have a responsibility to use it very carefully. Genetic genealogy got a black eye over this, and many reporters will have a field day with this story. We need some good talking points, to at least try to have rational discussions. In my own mind I liken DNA to fingerprints found at a crime scene that are compared against large databases to try to identify suspects. Law enforcement has a hard enough time trying to protect us and enforce the laws. A murderer or rapist needs to be caught and tied – even if that person is a relative. The closer to my grandkids the rapist is, the more I worry.
Each individual has to be able to choose, on an informed basis, whether we are willing to have our DNA used that way, Jim. I prefer to see some form of judicial oversight, such as a search warrant (and frankly with good scientific input and not laymen making these decisions), to prevent willy-nilly uses for less compelling reasons — and even to prevent invasions of our privacy when other less-invasive techniques could be used first. I also don’t want to see our cousins refusing to test or pulling their results down from genealogical databases because their data could be used this way without their advance informed consent.
Je suis sur la même ligne.
Je n’aimerais pas me réveiller dans le russistan ou turquistan ou coreistan ou quelconque demokrature
WHAT? translated using DeepL Translator
I’m on the same line.
I would not like to wake up in russistan or turquistan or coreistan or any demokrature
I think it would be best for law enforcement to obtain a warrant for DNA information from any testing company. With some evidence to support obtaining the information presented to a state or federal judge for review and a decision. Law enforcement found a loophole and jumped to get there the person of interest. This has always been a problem among minorities of the heavy hand of law enforcement and maybe for those who for years have escaped the hands of the law and have lived productive lives for many years. We may understand the Genetic Standards but everyday folks have no idea. I recently placed the standards on my homepage for visibility. It is right now a tight space we travel for genealogical purposes. I think it is important for me to say that some law enforcement persons or agency cannot be trusted. I have seen and experienced individuals in significant position order credit reports on relatives or others of interest. So we need safeguards. The other thing that is a little disturbing that some genetic genealogist offered the explanation that GedMatch did not provide their database but some other form of it. That was not entirely true.
But they did not use identifying DNA. They used all of it. A prosecutor could learn how impulsive a defendant is. During pleas he would know his life expectancy. Homicide has been in continuous decline for 800 years.
I agree with you. I believe DNA should be like fingerprints for law enforcement victims deserve justi e and others who would become victims deserve protection. I do not believe that your mine or anyone else DNA should be used for any nonlaw enforcement purposes without consent.
California’s Democrats love their outlaws. Gov. Jerry Brown has pardoned murderers recently. He has passed a new law to release burglars from being apprehended if the total cost of what they stole is under a certain amount. He has released thousands of criminals from prisons. California is a very violent place.
I’m all for using DNA in this case.
California’s violent crime rate isn’t all that bad at all. Missouri, Delaware, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Alaska are all states that have higher rates per capita.
I agree with DNA being more precious than any other personal information. That’s why I am reluctant to do a DNA-test at all. But if I wanted to upload my DNA to a site, I would read their T&Cs as thoroughly as I never read any T&Cs. GEDMatch states in their Terms & Policy-statement: “While the results presented on this site are intended solely for genealogical research, we are unable to guarantee that users will not find other uses.” Being a linguist I assume, the word “other” is deliberately used, as it’s as broad and as unspecified as it can be and doesn’t restrict any other use. In the statement GEDMatch released after the GSK-case was published, it says: “…it has always been GEDMatch’s policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses.” (see here: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Db4EFhLWsAExoW9.jpg) In my opinion, by checking OK to the T&Cs of GEDMatch, the user allows that his data can be used also for police research (as that falls under the definition of “other”). The problem lies more in the lazyness of the user to read the T&Cs than at the company or the police. I admit I am often also too lazy to read the T&Cs, but especially with my DNA there would be no question to read it from A to Z.
Thank you for your perspective. What LE is doing may not violate GEDMatch’s TOS, but in my view they’re lying when they check the box when they upload their crime scene profile. They’re pretending it’s the profile of a known person. And I say “is doing” because I don’t believe this Golden State Killer DNA profile is a one-off. Based on GEDMatch’s fairly weak statement, I suspect GEDMatch knows its database contains many crime scene DNA samples & LE has been using GEDMatch as their little secret extension of CODIS for awhile.The only people required to involuntarily give their DNA to CODIS are convicted felons. I deeply resent a practice that in effect puts me in the position only required of convicted felons. LE would love to have all of our DNA. Fortunately, laws exist to prevent that. Their deception to get access to the GEDMatch database ends-around those laws. I think GEDMatch should purge its database of crime scene profiles.I deleted my profile and I’ve urged matches I’ve communicated with to delete theirs too.
I can see both sides of this issue. On one hand I would give up any privacy to help apprehend a monster whether my relation or not but I also can see that some gov agencies could abuse their powers… Lots to think about and we genies are definitely going to need you, our Regal Legal Genie, Judy, to help us sort this out!
This really isn’t going to be an easy thing to balance, Linda. We all want to see those who commit these terrible crimes apprehended and brought to justice. But at what cost? We require search warrants in so many situations even with the most awful of crimes. Why not here?
I don’t understand the uproar over this.
“We also may be required to disclose an individual’s personal information [i.e. ‘personal data and other information that can be used to identify you, either alone or in combination with other information, including your DNA samples and test results collectively’] in response to a lawful request by public authorities, including to meet national security or law enforcement requirements.”
It’s right there in the terms. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to purchase their services. People get angry yet much of the time don’t even know what they’ve agreed to. How is that these companies’ or the authorities’ faults? This is even before Gedmatch becomes a factor.
2. I don’t understand why I am supposed to be upset that my DNA could be used to bust a rapist or a murderer, even if it is a family member. It’s this kind of tribalism that is destroying the country. If someone committed a crime, they should be prosecuted. If that’s a cousin or, God forbid, a sibling, so be it. Use my DNA. I’m fine with it.
3. Other than this, I get vague answers, hypotheticals, or just plain old Michael Crichton-style fantasy when I ask people why I should be bothered that authorities can use my DNA for investigations. My genealogical curiosity is much stronger than my fear that my autosomal kit could be used for some unknown sinister reason beyond catching crooks.
It’s not at all the fault of the testing companies. It’s more an issue of what we as a society intend to allow in general or only with informed consent. You may be comfortable knowing you have nothing personally to worry about in having police rummage through your results — and that’s 100% your right, with your informed consent. Others may wish to rethink this — and others who tested or uploaded before this potential became clear may be the most unhappy of all.
I cannot see how the police were able to conduct a search without breaking the conditions of the sites used. They used DNA without the owner’s permission for starters – and then pretending to be that person, they searched for relatives of that person. In many jurisdictions that would either rule out that evidence or throw out the whole case. I hope the judge dies the latter, no matter how strong the reasoned and reasonable cause for retribution.
John, They used DNA found at a crime scene first and then they used DNA that was discarded. Fine line, I know, but I think it was well worth it. Is it a slippery slope? Perhaps but if you read the link I posted law enforcement is not taking this lightly. In fact, I think you might infer that the police own the DNA they posted. They use DNA in CODIS, they use random finger prints they find in theirs and the FBI database. I think there is lots of law that needs to be fleshed out. But, I think if you will spend several hours reading the 41 page link on FDS I think your concerns will be solved. As far as Gedmatch, and the moral and ethical question, better minds than mine need to work on that. 12 Murders/50 Rapes – 1 Serial Monster. Is it worth it? I say, hell yeah. If they go too far, yes, we will have to deal with that as well. I would imagine we will see this at a higher court level. I can also tell you that I am not a lawyer but I know the Supreme Court has looked at privacy issues in the past and found that there is no individual CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to privacy.
The thing is, DNA is not just an “individual’s personal information,” it’s also the information of that person’s relatives. And while an individual certainly has the right to consent to law enforcement or others using his/her own DNA, why should that person have the right to consent to having his/her DNA used to identify relatives, who themselves consented to nothing?
You said it yourself. The terms of service in that case specify “lawful request”. What happened in the GSK case was not a lawful request (warrant) & only legal b/c of splitting hairs and loose ToS. If we are to maintain a right to NOT self-incriminate, it seems to me a search warrant is needed. And GEDMatch is dangerous for being so open.
See both sides of the issue. But do we really have privacy in other areas such as Facebook or any other site on the Internet, the IRS, phone calls, medical records, etc? I don’t think so especially since I used to work for the Government at one time. Big brother is already everywhere in our lives. On a personal level, if using my DNA helps catch a killer, I am for it-but thats me. Would it be more ethical if law enforcement told the people whose DNA was donated what was going on with it when they want to use it? Not sure how to answer the questions raised. (However, DNA still has not helped my family answer questions on dear old great granddad who walked out on his family!)
Would it be more ethical if law enforcement told the people whose DNA was donated what was going on with it when they want to use it?
In my judgment, yes. Or as we do for so much in criminal cases, require a search warrant for the data and at least run it through the oversight of a (theoretically at least) neutral judge.
Like many other issues today(Facebook?) laws lag behind available technology. Unfortunately laws are made for the most part by politicians with little input from scientists, or a informed public.I foresee a lot of negative knee jerk reactions to the Golden State Killer cases use of DNA. Most will be detrimental to genealogy.How do we honor the right to privacy of other people when the DNA we share belongs to both of us?
How do we honor the right to privacy of other people when the DNA we share belongs to both of us?
That is precisely at the heart of the conundrum we face, legally and ethically — and why this isn’t an easy question.
My reaction to this episode has mostly been that of annoyance. When I think of all the generations of those who searched for their ancestors as religiously as I do and who did not have the benefit of genetic genealogy to help them answer lifelong questions that many of them took to the grave with them, I’d be damned to let hypothetical concerns over “privacy” trump the miracle of DNA testing. I’m supposed to worry over the ethics in the random accident of matching someone who may be a psychopath? No thanks. My efforts in genealogy are not “recreational,” but sacramental. Moreover, if the Age of Information has taught us anything, it’s that there IS no such thing as privacy. We are ALL hackable; we are ALL reduced to data profiles for those who wish it so. Neither GEDMatch nor any of the testing companies are to blame for that. They and common sense laid out all the caveats a long time ago.
You may be happy to live in a Brave New World without privacy. You’re 100% entitled to make that choice for yourself. What none of us can do is dictate that choice for others, without their knowledge or consent.
I understand the ethical concerns voiced, but I want to address the part of the article where you stated that people who uploaded didn’t know DNA database use by police was an option. That’s just not universally true.
This isn’t the first time familial DNA has been used to solve a crime, although it may be the first time a genealogical database was used, and the most publicized.
This isn’t the first time a PUBLIC database was used by police either. Far from it. The use of public databases has been occurring long before the internet even, although who accessed these databases and why certainly changed with the age of technology.
Family secrets have ways of coming out, and we knew there was the possibility of finding some surprising results, and we discussed when and why and with who, we would share that knowledge.
My immediate family and I discussed all these possibilities before we ever tested and posted our DNA. And while I do have some concerns about those who uploaded to GEDmatch in the early days before there was a TOS, at the same time, they uploaded data to a public unencrypted database on the internet. There is an implied lack of privacy in making that choice.
While familial DNA is enough to make someone a suspect, it is generally not enough to secure a conviction, it’s why in the case of the Golden State Killer, they researched who lived in the area at the time, who fit the profile, etc AND, then they tested the remaining suspects DNA, (by taking his garbage according to most articles). Familial DNA was not the smoking gun many articles have made it out to be, just the break in the case that let them find other evidence.
And it’s why familial DNA doesn’t concern me. Like photos or blogs that our relatives may post, (not just in the context of genealogy) anything posted publically can be used. Police have used relatives Facebook posts to prove or break alibis. While ideally people should be more aware that the internet is not private in general, it’s hardly shocking information. And familial DNA alone will not convict someone.
I agree 100%.
Doesn’t this come down to the following: Does someone else’s wish not to want to have their DNA discovered trump my right to get my DNA tested if it matches with theirs?
I don’t think so, especially not since I can’t see how it opens them up to anything other than either getting caught for a crime or living under some vague, abstract fear that is not my responsibility.
Moreover, millions of people have already been tested. There’s a very good chance (probably close to 100%) that your DNA is already discoverable one way or another. You’re not putting this toothpaste back into the tube.
Thanks for this Judy. After the initial “gotcha” news, I’ve had time to reflect. My most profound concern in all of this is now, many law enforcement agencies will leap to the “new” technique (for them) to solve many outstanding/cold cases in their inventory. Without the requisite expertise, they will rely on “experts” with perhaps dubious qualifications (cousin Sue or uncle Harry who have recently taken DNA tests). That may be exaggerating it a bit, but it could (and I submit it will) happen. In fact it has already happened in the California case. Police and FBI “visited” a man in Oregon erroneously thought to be the suspect. This out of 100 or so possible suspects. Can you imagine the FBI showing up at your door on this occasion? Science not bad advice finally cleared the poor gentleman. Now, multiply that going forward.
The only standard that is reasonable it that which is already in the books in California relating to criminal databases. That would require a legislative “fix”. I believe subpoena and search warrants should be required *and* the scientific underpinnings should be provided to the courts on such occasions. In the latter regard, there should be standards of certification for experts or consultants to help avoid overly broad dragnets that may erroneously ensnare innocent citizens.
I don’t believe all of the details of this case have been reported (accurately) as yet, but time will tell.
With all that said, I will still be using GEDMatch.
Calgary, AB, Canada
I will also continue to use GEDmatch for my own results, Larry… but those suggestions of your make a lot of sense to me going forward.
I can’t understand the hysteria. People chose to upload data to an OPEN source website. Doesn’t that many ANYone can look at it and use it, for whatever purpose? To me, it is similar to putting up a billboard along a public thoroughfare saying “For Blue Eyed People Only”, then getting mad when brown-eyed people read it. Wasn’t it put in the public square to get as much exposure as possible? Perhaps users should consider all the consequences and be more circumspect about what they upload and where.
I want DNA to work for both sides. The problem that most people have (from what I can tell) isn’t the capture of a very bad man, but how that capture sets a president and the true reliability of familial DNA testing. The possibility for abuse is incredible. This isn’t just about crime,though the hypotheticals of being harrassed and railroaded because you’re sibling committed a crime and the police want to put it on you is very scary, or there’s a mix up in the lab and suddenly you’re up as a serial killer… Those are both just very big mistakes. The real fear is misuses by corrupt governments, insurance companies, and employers to find and/or persecute people irregardless of a crime. I don’t think we should stop using DNA sites, or that the police shouldn’t have access, but we need ethics law to catch up to our tech before we no longer have a voice in the matter at all.
If you read this it may answer some of your questions. And, it may raise others. Good comments.
Except not just anyone can look at the data on GEDMatch.You have to upload a DNA profile. And when you do, you have to certify it’s your DNA, DNA of someone of whom you are guardian or you’re authorized to use their DNA. In my view,that means it’s the DNA of someone you know, not an unknown crime scene profile, and because if that, users have the expectation that their profile is being compared to other known people, not to unknown samples.
My understanding is that the data on the GEDmatch site is unencrypted and therefore easily accessible to anyone who has the requisite computer literacy to enter through the back door, rather than through the official portal requiring users to set up an account.
My understanding is GEDmatch was used to create a suspect list. The DNA profile that was uploaded to GEDmatch was not used to make the DNA identification. A sample was obtained from the suspect and then compared to the original. How do you know that a warrant or oversight was not used? The simple cost of doing what they did would have required some kind of approval. It is my understanding when law enforcement creates suspect lists there is no oversight nor is a warrant needed. It is only later in an investigation after the list has been narrowed down that warrants are needed or come into play. Is the suggestion here that DNA should not be used to create the suspect list without conditions in place? And what kind of precedence would that set for all the other ways suspect lists are created?
The police have said the final comparison of the suspect’s DNA to the crime scene DNA was without a warrant: they followed him and waited until he discarded something they could then grab and test. Nobody has issues legally with that step: abandoned items are fair game in most places. The issue here is with rummaging through the personal information of people who are not suspects. The suggestion is that access to those people’s personal data should not be available to the police without oversight: a search warrant, for example.
Judy are warrants needed to run finger prints? I am not trying to be flippant. I really want to understand. Since I was a government employee and had a security clearance my finger prints were in some database somewhere. I have always assumed my prints were run against suspected criminals. It sounds like I am an outlier in this as I also assumed when I uploaded my DNA to GEDmatch because it was a public site it would or could be used to create suspect lists.
Fingerprints aren’t really comparable for two reasons: (1) the fingerprints in the databases are given either voluntarily (to get a job or security clearance where you KNOW government is getting them) or because of an arrest where again the person knows the government is getting the prints, and (2) the search of the fingerprint database is comparing the suspect’s DNA to the database to find one AND ONLY ONE result: not to find his relatives who might lead to him. It’s much more direct.
@Ann Gilchrist; there’s no reply button on your post. You are referring to a huge loophole in DNA fingerprinting. You need to do DNA fingerprints for many federal jobs, possibly all of them, and for atleast some jobs with the State of Texas. I think Texas sends its prints to the FBI. The prints are used to verify your identity and criminal history, and also kept in the FBI’s database forever. Any time a fingerprint check is run on anyone for any reason, it’s run against your print along with others. If you committed a crime and left your prints at the scene they would catch you.
However, if you are a suspect in a crime, they need a warrant to obtain your fingerprints. they don’t need a warrant to fingerprint you if you are booked into jail, however.
You said above ”Nobody has issues legally with that step: abandoned items are fair game in most places.”
Also reiterating your comments what’s legal isnt always what’s right. I know this is twisting your statement but I’d like to reverse the scenario to put it in perspective. Cousin Joe doesn’t want to test. I just wait till he discards something that I can test, given abandoned items are fair game.
That doesn’t feel right for me. I read the standards on the ISOGG wiki. The first page discusses testing with consent.
I understand more is at risk here than identifying a 3rd Great Grandparent. I also don’t want rapists and murders roaming the streets.
But that abandoned DNA probably stays in the database forever despite possibly not having any probable cause.
Given more funding it won’t be law enforcement wanting to be in our databases it will be us wanting to be in there’s.
Please tell me I misunderstood this and there are some checks and balances.
Personally if you’re using genetic genealogy (law enforcement included) I like to see everyone play by the standard.
I was careful to distinguish between what’s legal and what’s right, and yes, this is one of those distinctions: it’s legal for law enforcement to seize and test discarded items and the results of that search won’t be thrown out in court. But is 10000% unethical and wrong for any of us to grab a DNA sample from someone who doesn’t agree to test by underhanded means like inviting them over for coffee.
I think you really have to know the facts of the case to determine what was “unethical and wrong”. I am sure they followed the full rules of Search and Seizure in a case this important. The only DNA I know they seized “unknowingly” besides the crime scene was the “trash DNA” and I am betting they had probable cause way beyond the DNA database matching. They had a warrant. Was that issued improperly? Did they just say, “oh, this guy seems to be the guy let’s get his DNA out of the trash”. I bet there is probable cause beyond the “trash DNA” that has not been brought forth or disclosed in the news accounts. Should be interesting.
I am not concerned with the ethics of what they did with the suspect as much as I am concerned with the ethics of rummaging around in the test data of 900,000 people who did not give informed consent for this use. Of course they have probable cause as to the suspect. They don’t have it for 899,999 other people.
They typically use profiling and other investigative methods, often interrogation, to identify the suspect from the large target pool. There have been a number of cases where the wrong person was charged, even spent time in jail. Black people are worried this technique will adversely affect them, on account of profiling.
I wonder what this is going to do for those of us working military repatriation cases. It is already hard to convince some people to contribute DNA in a government program, in spite of reassurance this DNA program is protected under federal privacy laws.
It’s that kind of collateral damage that has my stomach in knots. 🙁
That’s what makes me sick as well. I am afraid this will put a definite damper on what was at one time a growing DNA data base for genealogical and familial research. I plan to hang in there but I fear many will not submit samples or will chose to remove their information from the existing pool.
Carol, That is why, as I understand the process, I think it is important for people to read and not have a knee jerk response. I think we have to remember that with DNA you never know what you will find. I found an unknown niece last year. To me, that was awesome, for others, maybe not! That is their problem. People have a right to know where they come from. That simple. If a genealogist does not believe that I am not sure that is a genealogist. Now, we would not need to use this same “methodology” to find birth parents if the states would give all adult adoptees their rights to their information.
Judy, collateral damage has MY stomach in knots, but we seem to be talking about a very different kind of damage? You seem concerned about the damage to the perpetrators of serious crime, and I’m worried about the damage to everyone else.
GEDMatch can/has been used to find biological mothers/fathers, for example. Perhaps the biological parent had an affair while married. A relative uploads his/her kit to GEDMatch, and there is a strong indication of half-sibling. In some cases, the families of these parents are not aware and knowledge could provide disruption. It has been said, “Don’t test if you are unwilling to find out some unknown information.” Anyway, connecting with a relative does not require a search warrant, and does not require one to contact the adoption agency to confirm the parent wants to meet the child. I’d like to know how the law views this scenario, as well as how it is the same or different from the issues in the Golden State Killer.
By the way, this blog and the comments included are the best discussion I have seen on the Golden State Killer from all over the genealogy pages.
I’m not at all sure it’s legally different but I do see it as morally and ethically different. How we walk that tightrope legally is why this is such a hard issue.
Judy & All – Enjoying my morning coffee and considering all the pro’s and con’s of the comments being made. I was young, and living alone in the East Bay, during this time – my Father gave me a baseball bat to sleep with. So when first hearing the news – I thought, why did it take so long, but happy none the less. The news will report what it can sell, and is making a mess of the facts, and I’m sure some folks now will not want to test. When we went to the small town cafe this morning, just stepping through the door, one patron said “Ally, did you see how they used DNA on Ancestry to catch that guy?” The general public just doesn’t get it, and our educating them is now even a bigger problem. I think I’m more angry with the news media than I am with what didn’t take place beforehand in catching this monster….
That my friend is why I have posted this question anywhere I have been and answered where I did not post first. This is complicated but here is the breakdown from the DNA specialists I have spoken to who have dealt with this at a high level.
1. The investigators ran Autosomal DNA tests on the crime scene biological samples which had been stored. (Same testing done with 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com/ AncestryDNA). This type of DNA you inherit from both your mother and father combined from ancestors for multiple generations!
2. Uploaded those Autosomal samples to Gedmatch??
This is a free public database that is used to compare DNA results between the companies listed above.
3. Narrowed down the families connected to the DNA that was downloaded to that database. (Methodology)
4. Narrowed down the prospects by location and age.
5. Collected a discarded biological sample from the suspects “trash”.
6. Got the results and arrested him.
7. Did another DNA test (probably CODIS) to confirm the DNA from the crime scene was the suspects.
Yes, it both a morally and ethical issue to use Gedmatch and determine, that although they owned the DNA, it was not theirs. This information will probably not be in the trial. Who knows? The information will be presented as he was brought in under probable cause and his DNA was tested again. He was not arrested because of the cousin matching on Gedmatch. He was arrested because his DNA matches DNA found at the crime scene!
Thank You Richard, may I use your explanation (1) to the gentleman who commented from the cafe (2) with Project Members?
Absolutely, however I need to correct a sentence.
Yes, it both a morally and ethical issue to use Gedmatch and determine, that although they owned the DNA, it was not theirs.
Yes, is it both a moral and ethical issue to use Gedmatch and that although it was not their DNA raw data. Does law enforcement own evidence collected at a crime scene? And, then for them to agree that it was their DNA raw data or DNA raw data results they had permission to use. I think anything law enforcement collects at a crime scene is theirs to use. i.e.finger prints, photos, clothes, DNA, etc. Secondly, by submitting the sample were they morally wrong involving other cousins in their research? i.e. An investigator walks into a bar and ask people if they know the man in the photo.
Thank You Richard-
You said “Does law enforcement own evidence collected at a crime scene?”
How is the DNA collected at a crime scene any different than the sample collected from the suspect’s trash? To my way of thinking, the items a criminal leaves behind (hair, fingerprints, blood, semen, etc.) is “discarded” the same as if they threw it in the trash.
“He was not arrested because of the cousin matching on Gedmatch.” But he would have never been on the suspect list without it. If a court rules the original match was done illegally, everything collected as a result of the original match could be thrown out from the DNA match to a discarded cup to any evidence they found in his house. I’m going to guess one of the first arguments by his defense is the original match was illegal.
One week ago I wrote two letters. Those two letters were to my last two surviving male line cousins. I was asking if either of them would be willing to take a Y test if I paid for it. We have a brick wall great great grandfather. We have plenty of anutosomal matches. Without the Male line we will likely never find out where he came from. I doubt I will even get a response to my included self addressed stamped letter now that this police case has hit the headlines. People who don’t understand it have a knee jerk reaction and DNA has become a dirty word.
If my DNA identified my mother as being a mass murder that would be fine with me. The end justifies the means.
Um, well, Toni, I hope you and your cousins do this genetic genealogy project.
But you might want to be aware that in one case a man was charged with a crime because his father had matched the perpetrator in the methodologically loosey goosey Mormon SMGF database, where thousands matched the perpetrator, and he sat in jail for two weeks awaiting further DNA testing, and that alone. In the current case, the wrong man was initially identified and targeted, because his Y DNA matched the suspect in Y Search! He was targeted for further testing. My guess is they didn’t arrest him because he is demented and bedridden in a nursing home and couldn’t even assert his legal rights, and they also didn’t contact his next of kin.
Both cases are so stupid that by themselves they wouldn’t stop me from having my data publicly available at Gedmatch; the specific details and Gedmatch’s own behavior did that. It’s hard to believe that an identification based on Y DNA in SMGF could have gotten past arraignment, if the attorney were at all competent, and if it happened to me, I’d have called TV news!
And, more often, the actual arrest was based as much on faulty profiling as on the faulty search method.
The recent arrest of a suspect in a rash of rapes and killings 30 years ago in California, using Gedmatch to identify the suspect, has identified a serious problem with this methodology.
I think that Ms. Russell completely misses the point of what is at stake. The real problem with this is not invasion of privacy of people who have committed crimes in order to identify and prosecute them. I am reasonably convinced that Ms. Russell genuinely thinks that that is AN issue.
I do not agree that I need to not post my DNA, family history, etc., because my DNA could be used to identify a relative who has committed a serious crime, nor one who fathered a child out of wedlock and avoided responsibility. In fact, I’ve actively helped the products of irresponsible sex by unknown fathers pin down a couple of the latter varmints. If they want to act irresponsible and skunky they can do it on the 6:00 news for all I care.
The REAL danger is the use of genetic genealogical data to either charge the wrong person based solely on a 12 to 67 marker Y DNA match, or identify a huge target group of hundreds or thousands of people who are related in any way to one person who is themselves distantly related to the actual perpetrator, comb through those people, and harrass or arrest some member of that group who matches a “profile”. In a third of the cases the wrong person was gone after, even spent time in jail. Even in THIS case the wrong person was initially a suspect, and they obtained a DNA sample from an elderly demented and bedridden man without ever contacting his legal representative and next of kin. It is not possible to identify the perpetrator by genetic genealogy, and the use of profiling is even more problematic. Minority groups are worried about how the profiles are applied to them. Both my brother’s Y DNA matches and my own autosomal DNA matches include Black people.
This is not a bull in a china shop issue, nor a privacy issue, but a very basic SAFETY issue. People are getting seriously hurt by the use of this method of hunting for criminals.
See also https://psmag.com/environment/the-flaws-of-familial-dna-matching-64736
The fact is, that this occurred, because Gedmatch allows anyone to upload just about any kind of genetic data. Acknowledged genealogical testing companies aren’t always good and ethical but they are always scrupulous about privacy. The testee must fill a good sized test tube the company provides, with large amounts of saliva. Then they have to sign paper work. It is not possible to provide a genetic sample and not know it and agree to do so, even if someone else forged the signatures.
If Gedmatch only accepted raw data files downloaded from a specific list of recognized genealogical genetic testing companies, it would not be possible for someone to upload a file of some other kind of genetic data, the owner of which doesn’t know the data exists, in order to target some group of Gedmatch users in order to do harm to them, that they themselves did nothing to deserve.
I wrote and pointed this out to Gedmatch, and to all appearances it was soundly ignored.
Gedmatch has taken a remarkably cavalier attitude, with no thought or sensitivity to their users’ feelings or welfare. They issued a statement, and put it on their announcement page, we told you when you signed up, law enforcement and others might use your data. If you don’t like it, LEAVE or else don’t sign up. This morning they had added another announcement, “SEE? We have created a special extra form for you! See! Here it is! LEAVE! NOW!
I immediately changed all of my datasets to research status, and I understand I’m far from alone.
I’m frankly hoping someone talks (or beats) some sense into the owners of Gedmatch, because if not, Gedmatch will no longer be the tool it has been.
You have identified the exact reason why, in my opinion, no one should upload their DNA results to GEDmatch. They are not only consenting to have their own personal information exposed to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the world to be used for every kind of purpose imaginable, both good and evil, but also Consenting to the same exposure on behalf of every other person within five or six generations of their family, many of whom they may not even know exist. Part of the problem is that my personal decision to NOT have my DNA information made public on GEDmatch can too easily be trumped by a cousin who decides on my behalf to share with the whole world the portion of my DNA he or she shares with me. GEDmatch needs to become more proactive in controlling who has access to this treasure trove of information about people who have REFUSED to upload because they REFUSE to consent to the GEDmatch Terms of Service.
Hi Judy, I have a basic question about all this. My sister and I must have nearly the same DNA since we have the same mother and father. If she reads the terms and conditions and decides to upload her DNA info to some website, where does that leave me? Your recitation of the ethics refer getting the consent of living people, but in this scenario I never gave consent. Where is the line between her information and mine? Or do I not, again, understand how DNA works?
This serial murderer case is not helpful because it is so extreme (everyone wants him caught, certainly I do). But what if the data were used by insurers to deny medical coverage based on genetic information? These days, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about that in the news either.
The question of using DNA for Insurance denial is already covered by Federal Law. They can’t.
On your other question, you DNA is your DNA and you can do what you want. As long as you do not attach the other person’s name to your DNA results then I do not see a problem.
The problem in the insurance cases is that the customer who is denied coverage is unlikely to ever find out that the denial was because the insurance company obtained their DNA information in violation of the law. Like an employer who automatically tosses out job applications submitted by people of color, the insurance company sure as heck is not
going to tell them the real reason for the denial. Furthermore, anecdotal information indicates the insurance industry has begun asking applicants whether or not they have ever had a DNA test and requiring the applicant’s consent to examine the test results as part of thr application process. No consent, no insurance. Not andwering the question truthfully constitutes fraud on the part of the applicant, rendering the policy void in the event the applicant makes a claim. Either way, an applicant whose genes indicate the potential of an expensive geneticaaly linked health condition developing someday in their future is toast. Of course, this is not a problem for folks who live in countries which offer universal coverage for all their citizens, only for folks in the USA which relies on private industry to supply an uneven patchwork of coverage to those who can afford to pay whatever the industry demands.
In the USA, insurance companies can use DNA data to discriminate for life, disability and long-term care insurance.
Unless your sister is an identical twin, your dna is still different enough for a mistaken identity to not occur. You may have gotten all “right side” half of dad, and “left side” dna from mom, but your older sister could have gotten all “left side” from dad, and all “right side” from mom. It never is that simple though. If you take mom and dad like dice in your hand, shake em real hard to mix them up good, blow for good luck, and toss- when you come rolling the numbers on the table, you get half of WHATEVER from dad, half of WHATEVER from mom. Then, sisters turn, so pick up your parents and start shaking the dice, blow and toss. Dna is unique to ONLY YOU, and you ALONE. It is what makes your sister taller, or blonde, or have a funny pinky toe, when yours is normal. Close, but still not you!
We need to examine the ultimate consequences of insisting on informed consent. My freely given autosomal DNA provides information about relatives who have not given consent. Absent consent from all of these relatives it could be ruled that NO DNA could be posted. Who would benefit from that “privacy protection?”
Nobody. That is exactly why the site needs an effective gatekeeper to insure it is only able to be used by legitimate genealogical researchers, not those who seek to push the envelope by playing fast and loose with the truth under the color of a false flag, or hackers exploiting loose data security practices and the lack of basic encryption.
There’s a bull in the china shop but those of us who choose to remain in the china shop have a lot to offer — especially if we don’t panic.
Do you also consider it unethical for law enforcement to have used records available on, say, Ancestry to work the matches they found on Gedmatch? It seems to me law enforcement did what we all do – find matches and work the paper trail. You seem to be conflating what law enforcement did with their motives for doing it. I’m not comfortable policing motives for doing genealogical research.
First, I’m not an unbiased spectator to this debate, since I was raped when I was 18 years old. So, more power to the police for finally catching someone who allegedly murdered more than a dozen people and raped nearly 50 women. Second, I’ve never taken a DNA test because I have serious qualms about handing over my DNA to a commercial enterprise no matter what the fine print at the moment says. As others have pointed out, this reminds me somewhat about the shock and anger that people have expressed over the use of their Facebook data. Guess what? Facebook is not just about cute puppy videos, sharing recipes, and letting people know what you did this weekend. It, too, is a commercial enterprise, and we give up a lot of privacy when we set up a Facebook page. I think it will be interesting to see how this debate plays out not just in the genealogy community but also in law enforcement.
Not to mention that Facebook offers free dna testing to users who fill out tons of info first!!!! Hahahaaaaa!!!!
Thank you for your clear outline of the issues as you see them. Our genetic genealogy world has been going bonkers since this story broke and people are getting very heated in smashing others who disagree with them. Your summary of “what’s legal isn’t always what’s right” resonates with me as well. And I need more hands to count arguments.
GEDmatch has different terms than do the other companies we actually tested with, and it’s our responsibility to know what those terms are and whether they are acceptable or not. I can’t automtically apply what my choice is FOR MYSELF to the kits I manage for other people; it’s their DNA and their decision. So for now, I’ve changed their kit status on GEDmatch to “Research” until we know more and they are comfortable with keeping their DNA in the database in the first place.
That is their right and I am supportive of their decision, whatever it is.
Let’s be clear that I understand the case of Law enforcement in this case and in other cases of violent crime. If I had a relative who was a rapist, I would want him caught. But the possibilities of misuse are great because this is a field – a china shop – that is new for all of us. I am very concerned that it’s going to go south.
Regarding the fact that we should all read Terms of Service to the nth degree — I don’t disagree. However, I uploaded to GedMatch years ago. Not sure the TOS and policy agreements existed then. Even so, I’ve since read them and the use of the word “other” to me is too broad. I don’t blame GedMatch in any way — I know they’re volunteers and I’m a Sustaining Member not about to stop my regular donations.
However, when I see something like “other uses”, I think well, that means don’t use the other users’ emails for my own marketing purposes. (My background is in IT and direct marketing, so I tend to recognize issues there, but not those that a lawyer or law enforcement personnel would recognize.) It’s on me for my own lack of imagination that law enforcement would create a “fake profile” (to quote the New York Times) to troll for relatives of a serial killer suspect.
I’d like to see GedMatch update their TOS to include some phrase explicitly stating that law enforcement might do this in the future using the same methods. “Other uses” will vary by the mind of the reader, even when someone is reading carefully.
So, for now, I have my handful of kits on “Research” mode, with only my own as public. (Even so, by definition that means my mom and my dad are public too.)
The NYT article is at this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/us/golden-state-killer-case-joseph-deangelo.html
Bottom line, I hope the GedMatch site owners don’t decide to just shut it all down — it can’t be stated strongly enough that they are hosting this service for the love of it.
Thank you for an extremely interesting article, Judy. It is thought provoking for our genealogical world.
Judy, I think if you read this it might quell your thoughts somewhat. They did not use Gedmatch to do anything but build out trees based on the genealogy from those in Gedmatch. People that did show a familal connection to the DNA captured from crime scenes decades ago. Then of course the real work, genealogy, takes over and the process of elimination. Location and age to narrow the field. Same process that is used for finding birth parents of NPE’s and Adults who were adopted. Although most Search Angels are not in law enforcement. The process is very similar. Here is a great history/study about FDS – Familial DNA Searching. I believe what has happened is we are showing the power of what citizen scientist have done by testing and building genealogy. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/251081.pdf
Not exactly true. It appears they required another elderly gentleman who was totally innocent to be subjected to a court ordered DNA test and investigated the whereabouts of about a hundred other innocent men during the time period in question by means which have not been specified, but which could have potentially had an impact on the reputations of those other men, even though the investigators eventually decided they were innocent.
Not exactly true. It appears they required another elderly gentleman who was totally innocent to be subjected to a court ordered DNA test and investigated the whereabouts of about a hundred other innocent men during the time period in question by means which have not been specified, but which could potentially have had an impact on the reputations of those other men, even though the investigators eventually decided they were innocent.
Thanks for the link to that article, Richard. After reading it, especially the section dealing with the procedures mandated in California before this kind of search can be done on the DNA data stored in CODIS (from DNA samples taken from convicted felons) one has to seriously wonder whether any of the same steps intended to protect the privacy of the innocent relatives of the perpetrator were taken in the GSK case. It does not sound like they were, whcih ironically would leave all those innocent citizens who have never had any kind of brush with the law with fewer protections than if they had been convict d felons.
About a year ago a friend called me to tell me of a strange event between her father and law enforcement officers who showed up at the care center where he was living and wanted to take a DNA sample from him. After the experience they left a calling card and a very confused patient. The family was amazed at how their DNA results found online lead the authorities to locate her father and request the test. Was this a knowledgeable consent or just an older man who agreeing to get these people out of his room? No one in the family was aware that it happened. Did the care center even know what happened? Over this year my friend and I spoke numerous times about the process and how the authorities asked for her help in resolving the case. They told her very little about the case other than it was a serious offender. This week she is relieved to have it all made public, but she notes that the story in the news is not all totally accurate. Surprise! For me this is more serious than using gedmatch to create a suspect list. This family now has a very interesting story to share, but they did endure many hours of stress not knowing what was going on. I am glad that my friend’s family could help. This was certainly a learning experience.
Judy, Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the Golden State Killer. I wonder if you ever saw this English case in the news a few years ago:
I stated working as a staff attorney with state law enforcement agencies in Florida not long after the Ted Bundy case was handled here, and have been following forensic analysis since then, although not an expert in the field. This is so fascinating, and you raise some really important issues, both with ethics and at the heart of our legal system.
My major concern is that investigators and judges who sign DNA Test orders need thorough training to understand DNA match reports, as well as written tests to confirm that they understand the training. Recent accounts of mistakenly-implicated persons demonstrate the need for this training.
This discussion is focused on the rights of the perpetrator of a crime. Clearly there are valid issues in sloppy DNA matching that identifies the wrong person.
I have two issues to discuss.
1. I’d like to hear what people think about the rights of the *victims* to see the rapist/killer caught and removed from society. The victims include the obvious, as well as family members, friends, and a whole region that lived in fear of being the next victim.
2. I acknowledge the need to be accurate and not charge nor convict an innocent person. There are so many stories of wrongful convictions and the Innocence Project subsequently proving them innocent. Some of these cases were due to evidence based on false testimony or incorrect eye-witness identification. Doesn’t DNA (done correctly) give law enforcement a powerful tool to reduce and maybe even eliminate wrongful convictions?
I have a bigger issue with my DNA being used by Mormon family members trying to baptize me than I do with the police catching a horrible criminal. But seriously, I lived through the East Area Rapist years and remember the terror in our city. I’m fascinated that they used GEDmatch to catch him. This is an issue that we’ll see more and more. It does need to be addressed.
I am completely against the law enforcement agencies use of this data without any kind of warrant or review by a judge or appropriate panel to satisfy moral ethics (understanding that ethics vary to at least a small degree between specific individuals).
There are already many instances of people wrongly convicted of murders and other crimes. There were even times when the parties handling the evidence used the evidence incorrectly including not revealing it to other party in criminal trials. Obviously there needs to be a process to protect all information from unwarranted searches.
If the FBI said to you, “Hey, for free, you can add your DNA to our national criminal database to find your long-lost relatives! OBTW-we have free tools you can use, too.” Would you? No, you wouldn’t. I can’t tell you how many posts I saw that relentlessly encouraged me and others to upload my DNA results to GEDMatch. Folks, we have unwittingly created a database that EVERY police department across the globe will now search to solve crimes—without restraint or oversight. I would like to hear from GEDMatch officials as to how many times this is occurring. They also need to drop their lame “I inferred this could happen” message on their website and just say: “YOUR DNA IS SUBJECT TO SEARCH BY INTERPOL AND CRIME BUSTING AGENCIES.”
And similarly for Facebook.
One of their customers used 35 permissions to extract over 300,000 people’s data – in one country alone.
And why is no one complaining about possible crime use of social media data???
Enough people are already complaining about Facebook to have triggered legislative hearings in both the US Congress and the UK Parliament and major investigations on two continents. The GEDmatch situation is a new issue that has just come to light., however, looking at the site’s total lack of security, one has to wonder whether they will be allowed to continue to collect and store data from EU residents under the new EU privacy regulations
You mean, other than all the folks using it and the US Congress who had the head of Facebook on the coals recently? Nobody else… 🙂
Anything and everything online is subject to friendly or hostile takeover and scrutiny by law enforcement. Don’t be silly!
When you agree to use the WiFi at Walmart, did you read the pages and pages of legal warnings before you agreed? It states that you are giving their corporation your legal consent to view ALL data contained in your cell phone, or other device, and that includes your saved MasterCard info, and private text messages on your phone, in your online history on Facebook or wherever, and in any app.
You also have claimed that you have read these warnings and that was totally alright with you. Is it? You better be sure, because it also said that not only are they gonna look at everything, but they also mentioned that if anyone spots anything at all that is against the law while reviewing all your cellphone data later, the US Government will be handed that information, since it appeared to simply even POSSIBLY criminal.
You legally said you are cool with that, while sitting there at Starbucks or Taco Bell with your laptop just to log onto this blog, mate even, and you are complaining about GEDmatch! GEDmatch, which only has 3 pieces of your personal info, unless you pay them or add to the minimum requirements. Actually, only an alias is required, and email, not DNA! So, anyway, the 3 basic minimum personal info fields are required (pretend dna is part of the 3 here), but if you were SMART- only one personal piece of information will be unavoidable. You can use an alias at GEDmatch, and you can set up an email that is also under an alias, just for use for contacts from this site. Now, you can get smarter and use a nice little browser tool or something to stop, delete, or alter the tracking cookies back to you etc. What is left? Right, all that is left is your DNA. But If nobody can trace it back to you….
So? So, if you have an ancestry account, or FTDNA, or 23&me, or NAT Geo, or whatever account that would be required to test at to even be able to share dna on GEDmatch, and you also used that company for both main tree info and to test, then maybe you filled out your profile on that site and made a quality tree, and kindly added a contact email on your profile or on a message board, in case a user can’t get in touch if they are wanting to exchange tree info, or are a DNa match, (all free to view even if you do not have an account but it comes up in google searches!) still, law enforcement can now not only obtain genetic info that is useless to them unless it connects them to a suspect, and they now have your credit card, your home address, your dna matches, all your previous messages in their private message system, and just in case, your tree that leads back to you, all sourced and considered “Genealogically” proofed for accuracy, and the email info you put on your profile page. Just in case the one you used to open your account is different or no longer in service.
GEDmatch is actually far superior at privacy issues than any testing company in this regard, and are still legally bound to adhere to law enforcement and their demands if that law has good a good enough for you reason or not, to violate your privacy and take the wheel and any info they want on any website you use. They do for much internet traffic anyway.
I actually don’t like GEDmatch much BECAUSE it’s the most difficult to easily view any info about any dna match, aside from a possible alias name and an email. You can’t just peek at their tree or send messages from the site, and nobody recognizes most of the names on their list even if they are alias names anyway, so it’s not like I don’t have to jump through a zillion hurdles just to see what side of my tree they might be on, IF they even uploaded a tree at all.
Law enforcement is THAT stupid either to arrest you on accident- unless that serial killer was an identical twin. They already HAVE the dna of the suspect, and when they get him, he will be tested again and compared with the sample- and will need to be an EXACT MATCH before they arrest him. You can’t arrest a second cousin dna match because of faulty record research.
So I would ask…what “is” the most secure DNA organization? I see so many unlikely but disastrous ways the whole DNA thing can backfire on a person and family but I still want to try it. There has to be a safe way to use this technology without compromising my family in the future.
The very first case where DNA was used went like this.
A man had confessed to a murder.
His DNA exonerated him.
The other day I mentioned GEDmatch in passing to a newly found DNA cousin. Despite the recent news, he joined and uploaded.
I found out as I was looking through my matches.
Now I have two people who match us both. One has a tree online. The match must be 5th cousin level or so.
It’s a hobby for me.
But I know people who are adopted or have a parent who was.
For them, finding family is a visceral need.
GEDmatch is a key part of that. Long may it prosper!
There are a ton of things with the law that dont sit well with people….that does not mean we dont listen to the law. Do you like taxes going up Every single year with no end in sight? That sits less favorably with me than the use of DNA to solve crimes. DNA Should be used as a fingerprint and I dont feel it will hurt Anyone other than those that committed crimes. We cant shy away from things just because it does not sit well with us /makes us uncomfortable. Not everything that feels uncomfortable is a bad thing. If in your best interest then I feel the ends justifies the means.
“The end justifies the means” has rarely if ever worked out for people in general. That’s one reason we have laws: so that we carefully balance our own individual rights — including a right to privacy and to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures — against the common interest.
“But allowing data from tests taken to reconnect families to be used without advance notice and informed consent for investigative purposes by law enforcement with the aim of finding the perpetrators of crime — a move guaranteed to shatter the families whose loved ones are accused because their DNA was used in those investigations — doesn’t sit well at all.”
Judy, by this argument a killer goes free because our sensibilities might be “offended?” Feeling that we need a sense of privacy does not necessarily entitle us to one.
“No reasonable expectation of privacy” is all I hear anymore. At least the use of DNA to apprehend a killer (by whatever means) seems reasonable.
Great blog post Judy!
I’m not in the least bit concerned about protecting the privacy of the killer. I am concerned about the privacy of 900,000 people whose records were rummaged around in without a search warrant or any oversight at all. I don’t accept “the ends justify the means.” If we really believed that, we’d throw out the Bill of Rights.
We have, as a society, decided that it IS better that a criminal go free than that an innocent person be punished for a crime they did not commit. The protections against illegal search and seizure in our constitution and the presumption of innocence in our criminal law are there because our forefathers were well aware of the ways in which the power of the law could be used to trample over the ordinary person lacking the financial resources and friends in high places to fight back effectively and prove their innocence. Whenever we have been tempted to forget the historic lessons which gave rise to our constitution and laws, we have seen innocent lives ruined by miscarriages of justice, ranging from lynchings to the extraction of false confessions by investigators who occasionally overreach because they are aomabsooutely convinced of a perpetrator’s identity that they cannot concieve of the possibility that they might have got it wrong. That’s why we need their actions to be subjected to second and third opinions and judicial oversight.
There does need to be judicial oversight.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
States and communities contemplating the use of FDS have a number of considerations to carefully think through. Many involve balancing the demands of adequate legal and ethical protections, public expectations (both fears of “genetic surveillance” as well as pressures to use the tool in more cases),available resources, and the usefulness and effectiveness of this investigative tool. As can be seen from
these state case studies, stakeholders perceive a number of significant benefits including solving very serious and/or serial crimes, increasing public safety, and being able to assure victims or their family members that everything in the investigative toolkit was tried. However, some concerns need to be carefully considered when implementing this practice- as with any tool that expands law enforcement’s reach. The interviews conducted demonstrate that all four states have been thoughtful in thinking through these issues.
When considering the future of FDS, it seems likely that the practice will continue to expand, at least in those states already using FDS, as more local agencies become aware of it or as victims and the public
begin to expect its use. As the practice “scales up” beyond piloting and more limited implementation, states will need to consider how to best allocate resources for this tool, whether and how eligibility or
approval processes will be impacted, and whether inter-state FDS is practical. Continued consideration of the concerns listed above will be critical to expansion efforts to ensure that as the practice grows, it preserves appropriate protections alongside this growth. Jurisdictions should also consider how they may use FDS for other purposes, such as helping to overturn wrongful convictions.
Finally, it is important to note that FDS is a relatively new practice, and its potential impacts (as well as any possible collateral consequences) will be better understood as more cases undergo this technique in the future. We hope that, in the meantime, these case studies can serve to share helpful information for
those wanting to learn more about how FDS works in practice and how other states have navigated these complex decisions.
I am in fasvor of requiring a “search warrant for probable cause” before non-police databases are used. And I don’t mean the “anything is justified” approach under the Patriot Act & the Dept of Homeland Security!!
Remember the US Supreme Court has okayed the fact that the police can deliberately lie to suspects, witnesses & the public without violating people’s constitutional rights!!
Is it any wonder that most don’t trust the police anymore?? Acts like this just undermine their credibility even more!!
I can’t bite my tongue! I want to, but can’t, and did not want to read every comment, so this might already be said from another reader. Here it goes…
From a law enforcement point of view, if you are looking for the perpetrator in say, a rape case, you do a swab or collection of a “sample”. This sample is then looked at for DNA evidence. The results are the proof, now it is up to law enforcement to find who it belongs to. Sometimes, that might mean waiting for garbage day and sifting through it for items from the suspects bathroom, or following them around and grabbing their gum or lugie wad they spit off the ground, or thier Starbucks straw from the trash. Whatever the case, this is legal because once you tossed your trash, it is no longer yours. This is fine, but what if you don’t have any clue who the owner of the sample is? What if this sample belongs to some guy in California who is on a 10 year murder spree and having a blast raping everyone in his path? You got the sample, but not even one suspect? By engaging in a crime, and leaving his “trash” for anyone to do what they want with, well, he basically signed his DNA waiver over for the safety of the community, and the law enforcement officers who we pay with our taxes to keep us safe. Law enforcent does not need the waiver signed by other people who have taken DNA tests to “opt out” of being a biological match in a database if someone like a adopted child of your uncle, or even some 4th cousin in Arkansas who is 80 years old and loves kittens and his grandkids and is nice as pie! If you don’t want to match people who are a bit “unsavory” or are even serial killers, then don’t test.
Law enforcement legally has the right to submit DNA for genealogical family confirmation, and they can also be commended for having to do the exact same work as an adoptee who wants to find their family. Adoptees actually have the lower legal viewpoint here though, and that is because the biological parents of an adoptee were given the option to be legally protected from that child, if that child wanted to know who they were, legally, they cannot. Unless. UNLESS they go around the adoption laws set in place (loophole!) and do autosomal DNA testing, and some hard work doing tree research and then locating living people (stalking) when their matches run out to make the best guess, and/or possibly even contact, the bio parents. The stalking, or, research, happens if they don’t have close matches.
Both law enforcement and adoptees still have to do the legwork the same for the same result, locate and confirm their suspect.
To me, the adoptee side of the argument seems far more violating, since their suspects were given a legal choice to not be found, and a loophole has been found to get around that. Having my dna matches “use” me and my tree to find someone illegally (almost, because the dna part hasn’t been dealt with yet) to locate their parents. I am not bothered by this though, and have no issues with adoptees “deserving” to know.
Law enforcement on the other hand, well I PAY THEM to keep me safe from criminals, and I EXPECT them to use my DNA to find someone who could be my father, brother, uncle, or next door neighbor. If that means submitting a dna sample like other people do into a database and using matches to keep me safe or bring justice to my family if one of the victims was my kid or something, then they need to utilize EVERY OPTION available to them. And if GEadmatch is where this happens, and not on ancestry or wherever the sample was tested originally for them? GREAT!
Law enforcement would not have been able to open up the website and be able to tell anything by looking at a zillion members, they had to have provides dna to obtain matches to the suspect sample, and do their research like the rest of us.
If anyone is alarmed with this bull in their shop, I suggest looking at the emails of your matches to realize that there is an entire herd running amok, right under your nose! All those matches that have @DallasPD.org, or Sgtbakersmith@upd.com are probably not your cousins but your cousin is probably gonna be in some big trouble later!
Oh, and I live in California, and would have grabbed a turd from the toilet in my home if it meant that law enforcement might make a dna connection to end the madness, even if that turd was my own child’s. If my kid is dangerous and killing people outside my own home, then I am no safer than anyone else. I love my children, but not enough to protect their identity for the sake of the lives of other people’s children.