Thursday, May 3, 2018
A DNA Site Helped Authorities Crack the Golden State Killer Case
With the help of genetic data from databases, police were able to arrest a man suspected to be the notorious Golden State Killer. It was through the GEDmatch genetic database, which has a lot of unknown genetic information listed within it. Unlike big companies like 23andMe which has more than 5 million users, GEDmatch has between 900,000 and a million users, and those users upload and share their information for free. This makes it easy for law enforcement to use it to collect data. In this particular case, investigators used genetic databases in order to find relatives who matched genetic material taken from an old crime scene, and they went on to cross-reference family data from GEDmatch and were able to find the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo. This case has brought the issue of genetic privacy to light, especially nowadays where genetic testing is becoming more popular and extensive. People will get there DNA tested to know of their ancestry and family history of health, but a lot of them don't consider what happens to their data after that.
Most of the big companies resist all law enforcement inquiries to protect customer privacy, but they do warn customers that there is a possibility of it. 23andMe has stated to never have given customer information to law enforcement. Although, many companies do give users control on where their data goes, whether they want to share it for research, with third parties, or with other consumers. However, databases like GEDmatch, which are open for everyone, don't have the same precautions to privacy. Although, they do inform their users that the data can be used by others for anything.
Users should always be cautious when using sites like these, even the ones who claim privacy.
Customers should be critical when reading privacy policies and understand how genetic data can be shared with third parties, especially when it's an open-source database. There is a lot of potential for abuse of genetic material exists, so it's important to be cautious about putting your genetic data onto the internet.