Medical News DNA database opts a million people out from police searches
20 May 2019
Police have been using DNA services to find criminalsGetty
By Adam VaughanA major DNA database that has been pivotal in solving US cold crime cases has blocked law enforcement access to the profiles of a million people, in a setback for investigators and a victory for campaigners.
GEDMatch, which allows people to trace their relatives by uploading DNA results from consumer genetics services such as 23andMe, helped police catch a Californian serial killer last year, decades after the murders.
But the site changed its terms and conditions on Saturday to opt out its million users from searches by law enforcement, in what genealogy geneticists called a “stunning reversal” of its position.
Officers have used a combination of matching genetic samples from the site with traditional genealogy techniques to build family trees and find suspects in cold cases. Around 25 such cases have been solved using GEDMatch, according to Christi Guerrini of Baylor College of Medicine.
Members will now have to actively opt in for police to use their data, which several people on social media said they would do to help solve crimes.
But the change was welcomed by genetic genealogists. Judy Russell, who blogs as The Legal Geneaologist, said the change “leaves the entire field on firmer ethical ground.”
The move is believed to be in response to criticism after the site made an exemption allowing Utah police to use the service for a violent assault. Previously, law enforcement agencies were only permitted to search the site for murder or sexual assault cases.
Under the changes to the terms and conditions, law enforcement will now be able to use opted-in data for cases including several other crimes, including rape, robbery and assault. Research has shown public support for police use of such databases is much higher for violent crimes than non-violent ones.
The change will likely impede law enforcement agencies, Guerrini told New Scientist, because while more crimes are now covered, the database that investigators could search had shrunk by a considerable degree.
GEDMatch did not explicitly say why it had changed its terms and had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.
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