Warrant Issued Permitting Police Full Access to GEDmatch Database

I bet this issue gets debated in the courts before long!

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

Accessing public DNA databases to find a potential familial match for a criminal act such as murder or rape started in April 2018 when California police used GEDmatch to identify someone whom they believe is the Golden State Killer. Since then there have been many law enforcement agencies that applied the same method to their own cases. Private DNA testing firms such as 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. have pledged to keep their client’s genetic information private, and GEDmatch, a public site restricted police access earlier this year, by requiring the use to opt-in for law enforcement access to their genetic information.

Last week a detective in Florida announced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference convention that he was successful to “penetrate” GEDmatch and search its full database of almost one million users. It appears to be the first time a judge approved such a warrant. With a court overruling the company’s policy may be a game changer for those who upload their genetic information to such a site. Remember, when you are sharing your genetic information, that encompasses not only your own personal information, but those family members who share your DNA. It is anticipated that a similar approach will be used to see if law enforcement may access the larger private genetic databases.

FamilyTree DNA, like GEDmatch make it possible for anyone to upload their DNA information and start looking for relatives. FamilyTreeDNA permits law enforcement searches of its database of 2 million users for certain types of crimes.

For more information read: https://www.yahoo.com/news/game-changer-warrant-let-detective-125158273.html.

The article originally appeared in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/05/business/dna-database-search-warrant.html.

Thank you to Bill Forsyth, ProQuest, for sharing the article with us.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

18 Comments

How exactly is the “public” mentioned in these articles going to show outrage? The average person will think that this is a great idea that will get killers and rapists off the streets. No outrage there. The only group who will be outraged are those of us who are trying to use these DNA databases to research our families. The only way I can think of to voice outrage is to pull my DNA samples from the databases and hope that I really am able to completely erase my DNA information from the database. I’ve already done this at GEDMatch, and will do so at other sites where I have DNA records as soon as I hear that they are being targeted. I don’t know if lots of people pulling out of these databases would be seen by the law enforcement agencies as outrage, but I am sure the Ancestry and other DNA database operators will certainly see it that way.
This is very much a case where overzealous law enforcement may kill a goose that could provide them with useful golden eggs. This is definitely headed to the courts.

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I have no problem with the police using my dna data to catch dangerous criminals, and have given GEDmatch permission to do so. As a victim of violent physical assault resulting in badly broken bones, I am happy to enable the police to use my data to catch criminals.

The man who assaulted me was caught, arrested, tried, and sent to prison. There is nothing like testifying at your own Grand Jury session, 5 days after the assault, with a cast on my arm from shoulder to fingertips, the day before major surgery.

So as an actual victim of crime, I invite the police authorities to use my data to catch criminals. If any of my relatives have committed a crime, they should do the time.

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i don,t exactly appreciate an organization such as law enforcement gaining access to my personal information.it,s invasion of my personal privacy,my medical records are covered under the HIPPA LAW.

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SHAME ON THAT DETECTIVE!!!! HOPE HE GETS FIRED!!! WHAT HE DID IS ENTRAPMENT AND INVASION OF OTHERS PRIVACY!!!

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American judges do not have any jurisdiction over citizens of other countries and should not be making such judgements which affect the data of people living outside the US. EU citizens are in theory covered by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and might like to follow my example and submit a GDPR complaint in the first instance to the judge who made this ruling and the Orlando Police Department who have tried to requisition the data of non-US citizens. See my blog post here for contact details:
https://cruwys.blogspot.com/2019/11/search-warrant-granted-for-access-to.html

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A search warrant requires that there be a valid reason to search. This was an invasion of privacy for all the innocent people whose DNA records were searched without reason. It is shameful and dangerous. I have not used GEDmatch nor will I until these problems are resolved.

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It appears that our “private” information is NO LONGER PRIVATE. That a company’s promise to protect our personal data can be overridden by a judge because it is “requested”. Agencies have no guarantee that searching out someones DNA will guarantee a match and an arrest. And even worse, is there a possible scenario that if they find a person that is related, who may not even be a “close” relative, will that person be called into questioning and grilled to try and get “info” on that “relative”?
This is definitely a deterent for those who wish to innocently pursue family research, and a warning to those who have already uploaded their DNA and/or family tree.
How many different “eyes” are going to be allowed to see our personal data, and what guarantee do we have that OUR data will be protected from any possible mishandling, like so many other databases in the last few years, gets hacked and our “personal” information is used for illegal or unsavory purposes? The likelihood of that happening goes up the more people that have access to it.

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Kudos to law enforcement for using tools to help solve heinous crimes. I will make sure that my DNA is available and up to date to help catch those that want to hide behind privacy laws.

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    I agree with you, Bruce, though it doesn’t seem to be the trend in this comment section. I don’t get what all the worry is about. There appears to be a basic mistrust of law enforcement!

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All information stored in the US is potentially available to law enforcement no matter what the policies of the organization storing the data are. I’m not talking just DNA information but anything stored in a cloud server in the US. And to top it off the organization can be compelled not to inform you your data has be accessed.

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My beef about this has to do with purpose and means. If LE wants to use people’s DNA this way, let them create their own databases, administer them, and invite members of the public to voluntarily upload. No warrants necessary. If this is the purpose of the database, and everyone in the database has expressly given permission, it doesn’t matter to me if my first cousin contributes and the DNA he shares with me is the evidence against the criminal. I might even decide to upload myself. The point is, it’s a dedicated database for a specific purpose, and I have control over whether my full data is part of the comparison process. As it currently stands with GEDmatch, that’s not the case. DNA databases for genealogy and other non-LE research purposes SHOULD NOT also be used for LE, period.

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Will they want the DNA of all people of a certain group to find all of the group. I’m thinking the holocaust.

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Why aren’t you people screaming about government forcing you to buckle your seat belt? Why? Safety… this is exactly a safety issue. I freely give my DNA… if anyone in my family commits a crime… do the time…

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Yes, Shaon, if anyone in my family commits a crime….do the time…..!

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Most posting here do not understand the process. LE has to have a legitimate reason to get a a warrant just like they would to raid a business office for documents. They look for a DNA match. They then build trees backward and then forward to find a possible suspect, eliminating those of the wrong sex, wrong age range and improbable location. They do not question family members and family will not know they have been part of the process. The match could have been a third or fourth cousin so even if you don’t give your permission, anyone related to you can provide the lead. LE then has to obtain DNA from the ultimate suspect (from discard material, for example) to confirm the match to the crime DNA. The lead from the database is not used other than as a potential direction to search.

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