GEDmatch Implements Required Opt-In for Law Enforcement Matching

GEDmatch is an open data personal genomics database and genealogy website founded in 2010 by Curtis Rogers and John Olson. Its main purpose is to help “amateur and professional researchers and genealogists,” including adoptees searching for birth parents. However, it recently has also become “the de facto DNA and genealogy database for all of law enforcement,” according to The Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang.

GEDmatch recently gained a lot of publicity after it was used by law enforcement officials to identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California. Other law enforcement agencies started using GEDmatch for violent crimes, making it one of the most powerful tools available for identifying “cold case” criminals.

Sadly, the same site also has generated a lot of controversy involving the lack of privacy of personal DNA information, both for the people who uploaded their own DNA data and especially for the relatives of the uploaders whose DNA information also was included without their permission and usually without their knowledge. Such blatant disregard for personal privacy may be a violation of privacy laws in many countries.

The GEDmatch owners have now tightened the web site’s rules on privacy. The result is expected to make it much more difficult for law enforcement agencies to find suspects.

Judy Russell, often referred to as “The Legal Genealogist,” has written an explanation of the issues involved and the reasons for the decision by the GEDmatch owners. Judy wrote:

“The new system fully conforms to all legal definitions of informed consent — particularly in light of the candid admission in the terms that GEDmatch can’t promise there won’t be new non-genealogical uses of the site someone figures out in the future that nobody is even thinking of today — and to the provisions of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well.

“And it’s a good, right, ethical decision. Doing as much as any website can to protect the trust of genealogists that their DNA data will be used only for the purposes to which they personally consent leaves the entire field on firmer ethical ground.”

You can read a lot more in Judy Russell’s article at: https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2019/05/19/gedmatch-reverses-course/.

8 Comments

Marjorie Satterlee’ May 21, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Why would people object to law enforcement using Dna to catch criminals unless they are criminals. It might be your life they protect by carching killers especially in cold cases

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    Some of our patriotic, flag waving citizens arm themselves with all manner of firearms, amassing huge stockpiles of ammunition, all to protect themselves from our police or our government … but society does not consider them criminals that are arming against our government. But if people resist sharing information, they are criminals?

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Well put, Marjorie. I agree completely. I can only think that the few vociferous objections are by people who misunderstand the process and think their own privacy is being violated. But if you’ve done a DNA test, most people already share their matches, and GEDmatch is a strictly voluntary website that people chose to upload their results to.

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    —> GEDmatch is a strictly voluntary website that people chose to upload their results to.

    True. But when you voluntarily upload your on personal DNA information, you are also uploading private DNA information about all of your blood relatives, including some information about your fourth or fifth cousins. I assume you have not obtained written permission from all of them.

    I am no attorney but, as I understand it, uploading personal information of anyone else without permission is illegal in many countries.

    I believe that identifying violent criminals is a great service to the public. However, supplying personal information also allows for abuse of the system. The present GEDmatch system is wide open and the information is available to insurance companies, rogue law enforcement personnel who use the data for illicit purposes, and everyone else. Insurance companies can raise your health insurance rates and that of your close and distant relatives if they find that your family members are susceptible to various inherited diseases. Bigoted people can identify individuals by race or ethnic origins and attack them. In a scenario reminiscent of Nazi Germany, governments could send individuals to concentration camps because of each individual’s ethnic origins.

    The various laws are designed to prevent such abuse.

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Genetic.Family has added to their Chrome Extension an easy way to change your kit permissions. You can check out at

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I would like to refer you to The Legal Genealogist’s May 22 folo on the GEDmatch policy – titled Smoke and Mirrors. After really looking into the new levels of “choices” she has found it to be full of loopholes.

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One doesn’t need to be a criminal to be concerned about the sharing of DNA results to third parties. As Dick mentions above, there are a lot of ways that this information can get into the wrong hands already – when you add a level of permission to law enforcement personnel, you add another level for the bad guys to potentially hack into it. Anyone who has ever been the victim of identity theft should be concerned here, and give some thought to the process.

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As far as I’m concerned, if I have a relative who is a criminal, I want them caught. If they don’t like it, fly straight.

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