Policy ForumGenetics and Privacy

Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation

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Science  08 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6393, pp. 1078-1079
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau1083

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Summary

The 24 April 2018 arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo as the alleged Golden State Killer, suspected of more than a dozen murders and 50 rapes in California, has raised serious societal questions related to personal privacy. The break in the case came when investigators compared DNA recovered from victims and crime scenes to other DNA profiles searchable in a free genealogical database called GEDmatch. This presents a different situation from the analysis of DNA of individuals arrested or convicted of certain crimes, which has been collected in the U.S. National DNA Index System (NDIS) for forensic purposes since 1989. The search of a nonforensic database for law enforcement purposes has caught public attention, with many wondering how common such searches are, whether they are legal, and what consumers can do to protect themselves and their families from prying police eyes. Investigators are already rushing to make similar searches of GEDmatch in other cases, making ethical and legal inquiry into such use urgent.