Like It or Not, Everyone might soon be in a DNA Database

There is an interesting article by Stuart Leavenworth in the Herald.net web site:

“Familial searches led California authorities to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo in the Golden State Killer probe in April, and investigators have since used it to make breakthroughs in several other unsolved murder cases, including four in Washington state, Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina.

“But as these searches proliferate, they are raising concerns about police engagement in “DNA dragnets” and “genetic stop and frisk” techniques. And as public DNA databases grow and are accessed by law enforcement, investigators may soon have the ability to track down nearly anyone, even people who never submitted their genetic material for analysis.

“’If you are a privacy zealot, this is super alarming. It means you don’t have any privacy,’ said Malia Fullerton, a bioethics specialist and professor at the University of Washington. ‘On the other hand, if you have no problem with police using your family information to solve these cold cases, you might see this as a good thing.’”

Also:

“Given the reach of familial searching through GEDmatch and similar sites, some legal experts say the time has come for government regulation of these sites and how law enforcement uses them.”

You can read the entire article at: http://bit.ly/2Pc1RQ8.

Comment: I have no qualms about law enforcement officers using GEDmatch and similar online resources to legally find and apprehend murderers and other violent criminals. If possible, I would even help the police find these criminals and would volunteer my own DNA information in such an effort. However, recent history has shown that some police, some employees of law enforcement departments, and various hackers around the world also use all sorts of databases to illegally spy on people, especially spying on former spouses or lovers, as well as for illegally finding information about business rivals, celebrities, and potential blackmail victims.  Do we want to keep these databases in public view where ANYONE can use them for ANY purpose?

11 Comments

This will soon hit the Supreme Court and the EU as well

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This is a very good thing….no, a great thing! So much good will come from the data, science, cures, bad guys in prison… What kind a person wishes criminals to not be apprehended using solid evidence? The privacy zealots, either need to educate themselves, take appropriate medications or go off-grid and away from civilization. If they are guilty of a crime, then perhaps the third option would be best for us all. Sure, hackers can get anything they want on the individual level BUT they need a reason, a motivation to do so. A vocal privacy zealot, might inadvertently make themselves a target. Congratulations. If one might be blackmailed, a hacker might take interest. All this is way off the subject of hacking DNA information. DNA information is not useful to them. There is no legal string of custody even. Tracking down an ex-spouse or any living person through DNA takes too much effort and a lot of luck ( their target would have to have a DNA test which is…very unlikely and it would have to be available to view somehow ) Just no. This is a ridiculous argument. One could say the hacking of DNA as medical information is a problem. Well, yes it might be, however it is also legal to do so….particularly illegal for DNA companies to sell or give DNA data tied to an individual without that individuals consent..**where** medical issues are involved. Big Health Insurance and Big Pharma would face the mother-of-all-lawsuits and probable corporate annihilation, should they try and get caught. Actuaries for corporations would say that venture would be virtually corporate suicide. Only 15 million tested so far. That is a lot of soldiers.

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OK, I’ll bite. How will my DNA get into any database (good, bad or otherwise) if I’ve never submitted a sample to anyone ever that I am aware of?

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    —> How will my DNA get into any database (good, bad or otherwise) if I’ve never submitted a sample to anyone ever that I am aware of?

    Because a relative of yours… a sibling, a first cousin, a third cousin, a child, a parent, or some else with very similar DNA to yours has already submitted their DNA. That is how the various murderers and rapists have been apprehended so far. To my knowledge, none of those criminals ever submitted their own DNA but their relatives did submit DNA information. The law enforcement personnel then find that person and ask such questions as, “Do you know anyone who lived in this area in the following years?” or perhaps “Do you have any relatives in the following locations?” or “Who were your grandparents? How about great-grandparents? We can trace all their living descendants.” Simple police work.

    Again, I think this is a great use of DNA information. If I could help, I certainly would do so to help the police apprehend any violent criminal, whether the person was my relative or not. I am only concerned with the abuse of these public databases for purposes other than finding criminals. We have seen lots of abuse of public and non-public databases alike in recent years. We all know about credit card numbers and other personal information stolen from various databases by criminals. Will something similar happen here? Will the information be sold to insurance companies?

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    In many cases law enforcement does not even need to contact the distant cousin who submitted the samole. Instead they can use family trees which have been posted publicly by other distant relatives to zero in on a suspect the cousin who submittee the sample may not even be aware of. That seems to have been what happened in the Golden State Killer case, where it seems the investigators first targeted an elderly nursing home resident who was ultimately exonerated (by further DNA testing) before finally turning their attention to the man now under arrest.

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I guess I’m just sitting on the fence – I can agree with the reasons of both sides. I’ll not be tested, that I do know and am concerned that my daughter did and what she can learn from it. I’ve done my 65 years of research many ways – free info, info I pay for and costly trips to get other information and make the trees. In spite of daughter’s DNA she hasn’t found anything new at all – only people I actually know personally and who have long been on my trees. So genealogically it hasn’t helped.
As for the other half of the problem, I’m not sure of anything. Nice to see the bad ones behind bars for the police and the victims or their family, but possibly there should be a barrier in the way – checking with the DNA person to make sure they agree and give permission, or not being able to see the trees? Huge problem for the future, I think.

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    Like your daughter, Mary, my paper trail research matches what DNA testing is telling me, but that’s scientific confirmation I didn’t have before. More importantly, through several distant cousin matches, DNA is also helping to confirm or at least introduce stronger evidence for family lines going many generations back that I have theorized, but have not been able to prove through records. I believe there’s a great deal more potential in this area.

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The question from myhistoryrocks was about “my DNA”… There are 3 kinds of DNA. As Dick says some will match relatives…even exactly. The police do not use that type of DNA ( the Y and the mtDNA which pass down nearly the same for 1000 years and it is much expensive to test for and relatively few people actually test for them ). The police look at the very popular autosomal DNA ( atDNA ) test results….and only open source data bases….where the volunteers like myself WANT to get my atDNA in front of as many interested people as possible. We have to upload our results and then download them to GEDmatch, which you may have heard about. AtDNA of the parents dilutes by~50% each generation, in their children. Siblings will have very different amounts of each parent,unless if they are twins of course. A child will only have ~50% of a parent’s sibling ( ~25% ) and a 1st cousin ~12.5% of you….maybe. Maybe 20% of your 3rd cousins won’t even match you at all. You share matching segments with near relatives. Only a twin would match exactly you exactly. Today we measure starting and stopping points of a segment, by the location of a **base pair** of molecules on a chromosome! That is extremely specific! A male suspect would have to match you exactly. Not going to happen if you are not the person of interest. They still have to put you at the crime scene and good proof of elsewhereness : ) negates the best DNA evidence. Now to answer the question. your exact DNA would have to be acquired at the crime scene….or as the investigation of possible suspects continues, your 3rd cousin has tested his atDNA and it is close enough to investigate further….someone in the extended family tree. They build a family tree to see who might have been in the area. Say you lived in the area where the crime was committed and therefore, unbeknownst to you become a suspect. They snag a discarded soda straw you used and run an atDNA test on it. It doesn’t match the real suspect enough but they are better able to reduce their search. Those are the only three ways that I, at the moment can think of, where the authorities get your atDNA without your knowledge. 1/ you are guilty 2/ somehow someone planted yourDNA at the scene 3/ during the investigation of your family tree, they snag a sample from the trash. So….don’t be guilty, eh? Nice deterrent. You’ll most likely never know you helped bust the perp…..and good job!

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slippery slope – some of our privacy and/or civil rights will be stomped on at some point. I will never willingly get DNA testing to be put in a nationwide database.

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Dick, I’m not sure if the outrage in your comment was real or simply intended to provoke discussion, but there are two points I’d like to make.

One is that Facebook is the main channel through which people ‘spy’ on others; the other is that if there is a ‘public’ database of DNA results I’m not aware of it. GEDmatch is only ‘public’ in the sense that almost anyone can contribute their raw data and match them against the data of other contributors. You cannot view someone else’s raw data.

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I have no problem with law enforcement using my DNA to catch criminals – as long as they get the guilty party not one of their innocent siblings or cousins. Law enforcement often has tunnel vision once they zero in on a subject and will stop at nothing to get a confession or conviction even if it involves lying.

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