I recently wrote about two different “cold cases” where murderers allegedly have been identified and arrested by using information found on the publicly-available genealogy DNA site at GEDmatch.com.
Privacy advocates and many others have since questioned the legality of using the information for law enforcement purposes. Admittedly, the information is publicly available for all to see. The genealogists who contributed the information did so willingly and presumably gave permission for the family DNA to be available to all. However, the relatives of the uploading genealogists may or may not have given permission for THEIR personal DNA information to be made available to the public. After all, it isn’t the DNA of any one individual; it is indeed the family’s DNA information. Not all family members have agreed to having that information made available to genealogists, law enforcement personnel, insurance companies, and worldwide hackers alike.
In the past, a court order was required for law enforcement personnel to legitimately invade the privacy of an individual or a family. The public information made available on GEDmatch seems to circumvent the legal protections of having a judge review the intent of law enforcement personnel. Are we giving up some of our liberties and privacy protections by making such information available?
There is also an issue of having law enforcement personnel use the information only for legitimate criminal investigations. One of the alleged murderers, commonly referred to as the Golden State Killer, reportedly was a uniformed police officer at the time he allegedly committed the rapes and murders. If GEDmatch had been available, would he have used the information on the web site to avoid identification and arrest? Indeed, GEDmatch theoretically could be used by murderers and others to evade capture.
You can find dozens of online article questioning the wisdom of making such information public. I’ll point to one such article by Carolyn Crist on the Reuters News Service web site at https://reut.rs/2szWHUq as one that describes the pros and cons of the issue. However, you can find many more articles about this issue by starting at any general-purpose Web search engine.
Perhaps the best quote of the article is, “‘Think carefully before uploading your genealogy data,’” said Benjamin Berkman, who heads the section on the ethics of genetics and new technologies at the National Institutes of Health’s Department of Bioethics in Bethesda, Maryland. ‘We’re not saying it’s unduly risky or a bad idea, but be comfortable with the idea that police may use your information to solve crimes before you sign up for these services.'”
My thanks to the many newsletter readers who sent me links to articles about these issues.