From an article by Sarah Zhang in the highly-respected The Atlantic web site:
“Tools meant to reunite families are now being used essentially to get families to put their members in jail.”
While few of us anticipated the intersection of genealogical DNA databases and police cases, many of us were intrigued when the combined efforts of law enforcement and a genealogist resulted in the identification of the suspected Golden State Killer last year. Now that precedent has opened the field to other cases, questions arise surrounding the ethical and legal aspects of these unforeseen applications.
Here are a few other quotes from the same article:
“Police officers were uploading crime-scene DNA to genealogical databases without any formal oversight, and prominent genealogists disagreed bitterly on how far they should be let in. The debate became so toxic that genealogy groups on Facebook banned any discussion of law enforcement. Decades-old accusations—unrelated to genealogy—were dragged up to discredit vocal members. People were blocked. Friendships ended. At a genealogy conference in June, the different sides ignored each other from opposite ends of the bar.”
“This single episode managed to inflame the fears of people on all sides of the law-enforcement debate. It showed the flimsiness of privacy protection by terms of service. It showed that police could push to expand the types of crimes investigated. It showed that access to DNA databases, for genealogists on criminal cases, could easily and abruptly be taken away.”
“Genealogists also worried that others who break the rules or do not know what they’re doing could spark even more public outcry—and ultimately hurt the field.”
“For [Curtis] Rogers, who started GEDmatch in retirement and is now 81, the questions about law enforcement have been a big headache. He didn’t get into this field to answer difficult questions balancing about privacy and public safety. He was just interested in family history. ‘I wish it had never happened,’ he says. ‘I think it’s just a big distraction for genealogy.'”
This article is full of contradictory opinions. I don’t know which opinions are “the best” ones, but I do suggest that every genealogist who is interested in DNA should read this article and then carefully consider what is best for himself or herself.
The Messy Consequences of the Golden State Killer Case by Sarah Zhang may be found at: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/10/genetic-genealogy-dna-database-criminal-investigations/599005/.