Law enforcement, victims of violent crimes, families of murder victims and the community as a whole has just suffered a devastating set back as the public genealogy DNA database GEDMatch has become unavailable for use by law enforcement. Whether or not this is a temporary setback or something more permanent depends on everyone who has already uploaded a DNA profile to the public database and how future uploads are handled.
GEDMatch now requires that the owners of all DNA profiles that have been submitted or will be submitted manually opt-in for their profile to be available for use by law enforcement. All profiles that were previously submitted have been automatically opted-out. DNA profiles that are already in the database can be made available to law enforcement again by the person who originally submitted the profile by logging in on the web page and opting- in. DNA kits that are uploaded to GEDMatch in the future will, by default, not be available to law enforcement. It is up to each individual who uploads a profile to manually log-in if they want their information to be used to help identify violent criminals or unidentified human remains.
Why Did GEDMatch Change Their Settings?
About a year ago it became public knowledge that law enforcement was using DNA profiles contained in public databases in effort to investigate violent crimes. The arrest of the Golden State Killer brought this into full light and raised privacy concerns among some of the population. Users have always had the option to remove their profiles from public databases and private consumer databases.
When some users became concerned about privacy rights GEDMatch and other databases reiterated the fact that users can remove their profiles from databases at any time. However, if users completely remove their profile from the database they cannot take advantage of the tools that would allow them to identify familial DNA matches. The new settings allow users to conduct their own genealogical research without allowing law enforcement access to their profile.
Why Should I Opt-In?
Law enforcement has for many years used DNA to identify perpetrators of violent crimes, rule out individuals whose DNA does not match perpetrators and identify human remains. Methods law enforcement used in the past were limited in scope. Only individuals whose DNA had already been collected could be identified which has left many violent crimes unsolved even in cases where DNA evidence was available. The remains of many people have gone unidentified.
Current technologies and methods that use the genetic information uploaded to GEDMatch and other public DNA databases expands the pool of available matches exponentially. Along with the investigative assistance of genetic genealogists police have identified suspects in over sixty violent crimes and identified the remains of over ten people. Some of these cases were decades old and had no hope of being solved in any other manner. Each user that does not opt-in shrinks the pool of information that law enforcement can use to continue these efforts. Each person that chooses to opt-in expands the information available and assists law enforcement with identifying remains, solving violent crimes and giving closure to families of victims.
Does Opting-In Infringe on Our Rights?
Honestly, that really depends on what you think your rights are and how DNA databases are used. In the past people have uploaded their DNA profiles and GEDCOM files to GEDMatch in an effort to find family members and prove kinship. This process already identifies individuals who have not contributed their own DNA as possible family members. Adoptees and illegitimate children have been able to find their biological relatives through this process. Who has the most legitimate rights here? Does the child given up for adoption have the right to know who their ancestors are and identify possible living relatives? Do that person's biological relatives have the right to know that they are related? Or does the biological parent's rights to privacy trump all others?
In regards to crime solving, whose rights are most at risk? I think we can all agree that we should have the right to live without the threat of violence. Is the basic right to life less important than privacy concerns of rapists and murderers? No one has the right to physically harm you or your family members but it happens. Society should have the right to catch violent criminals and remove them from the streets before they can cause harm again. Victims’ families should have the right to see justice served for their loved ones who were harmed by someone who had no regard for the rights of others.
None of us has the right to act without consequence if our actions harm someone else. Our rights are intended to protect us and allow us to live as individuals in a functioning and safe society. We have the right to live private lives so long as our actions do not harm others. Our rights should not be used as a shield to protect violent criminals and allow them to keep raping and killing. Once an individual's actions threaten the safety of others, those actions should no longer be protected.