Home / News / Law Enforcement Use Online DNA Services to Track Killers in Your Family Tree

Law Enforcement Use Online DNA Services to Track Killers in Your Family Tree

—blogged by @lovelikejhoney

 

While new technology continues to develop, consumers’ privacy is at a higher risk. Devices are able to detect ones fingerprints, voice and face—Apple products for example— have created policies to protect one’s security; however, no policies have been created to protect consumer’s  genetic material.

 

An increasing number of services—such Ancestry, GEDMatch, MyHeritage and more—can use a simple swab of DNA to find long-lost family members, original ethnicities and/or detect early warning signs of diseases. Millions of users have anxiously shared their samples not thinking about what happens with their DNA after receiving their results. Who can access their genetic material or where it is stored?

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

In April, investigators arrested a suspect in the decades-old case of the Golden State Killer after sifting through online genetic data. The arrest has initiated debates and conversations about privacy in the digital age. 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

To help track down the alleged Golden State Killer, investigators matched DNA from a crime scene to genetic data belonging to the suspect’s cousin that was posted on an open-source genealogy website. But the question is, was this legal?

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

“Criminal court cases thus far have treated DNA data like a fingerprint,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She also added that courts haven’t found genetic information to be protected under the Fourth Amendment, which results in unreasonable search and seizure. There is no specific law stating that investigators need a warrant to search public databases for DNA, yet, investigators also didn’t bother reaching out to any of the companies hosting the DNA or asking permission to run any tests.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

“We all want a serial killer caught,” said CeCe Moore, an expert genetic genealogist. “But what other applications could it be used for that maybe we would not be so in favor of?”

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Questions about how personal data should be handled and how it might be abused are being asked more often and urgently. Facebook Inc. constantly reassure users that they have control over how their data is shared; yet, last month, a woman in Oregon said an Amazon Echo device recorded a private conversation and shared it with one of her husband’s contacts.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

In some criminal cases, DNA evidence is sometimes misused or misinterpreted. But the implications of such DNA dragnets could extend beyond murder cases. In addition to the Golden State Killer case, Georgia law enforcement is also guilty of using online DNA services to track down illegal abortions and trying suspects for fetus abandonment.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

“The police are just going ahead and doing this without any oversight,” said Debbie Kennett, a British genealogist and author. Kennett argues that users should have a right to determine how their DNA data is used and that these privacy issues have become the key factor in one’s guilt or innocence. 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

With more and more Americans logging on to genealogy websites, the services have become vast repositories of DNA—and a potential trove for law enforcement agencies attempting to solve cold-case investigations.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

The tension between consumers’ expectations of digital privacy and law enforcement’s eagerness for evidence, has intensified as more and more people adopt technology that requires personal information—often times without users being aware that it’s happening. 

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Do you think investigators should acquire a search warrant for online DNA tests? Or should public information remain available? Comment your thoughts below!

About Peachkyss

I am "Fashionably Obsessed" with everything fashion related from the hottest trends to the latest releases of your favorite designers. "Style is a way to say who are you are without having to speak." Have a question about what your favorite celeb is wearing or fashion advice, email me at [email protected]

Check Also

Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba And More To Star In New Adaption Of The Musical “Cats”

Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift are coming together for an adaption of “Cats” …

2 comments

  1. Why would you make something as sensitive as that as public? I’d rather do my own research and find my own relatives then to be subject to illegal police activities

  2. So the tin foil hat people win this one! This debate is catching ground! This is not a new topic. It’s just catching ground as the popularity with these ancestry/DNA test rise. What are they doing with the samples once a person has received their results? There are a few theories as to what these places are doing with people’s DNA; too many to get into, this is one that the public will be on the fence about. If law enforcement can get the public use to this practice then they can publicly use the collected DNA for more than that!
    People willingly giving up their DNA but straight forgot about Henrietta Lacks story! And if you want to disagree about the type of DNA then you must not know about science! All they need is a little DNA and they can replicate, creating organs and all kinds of things!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *