Should Law Enforcement Be Allowed To Use DNA Databases To Catch Criminals?

When the alleged Golden State Killer was arrested, many DNA testing companies were known only for helping to trace family histories or unlocking family medical secrets. However, because the police uploaded the DNA from the crime scene and found distant relatives of the alleged Golden State Killer, forensic genealogy has come out of the darkness and into the spotlight. Since then, the uploading of DNA from a crime scene to Family Tree DNA, and other websites, dozens of rapes and murders have been solved.

But the question remains, should law enforcement be allowed to use DNA databases like the ones found on Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, etc., to catch violent criminals?

Professional genealogists were shocked that Family Tree DNA kept the fact that their database was being used by law enforcement a secret. Once the secret was out, Family Tree DNA modified their Terms of Use to encourage DNA database users to assist law enforcement.

Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA does have an opt out for their users not wanting to participate in helping law enforcement, but now requires a court order.

GEDmatch can still be used by law enforcement, and if you are a GEDmatch user, you can opt out of the program. As an aside, Forensic Magazine reported that less than 1 percent of U.S. GEDmatch users opted out after one week.

What Does America Think?

A recent poll conducted by Maurice Gleeson of 639 genealogists revealed that 85 percent were “reasonably comfortable” with law enforcement using GEDmatch to identify murders and serial rapists.

Baylor College of Medicine recently published their result of a general survey which found that out of 1,587 responses, 91 percent were in favor or genetic genealogy for solving violent crimes, and more surprising, 46 percent were also in favor of using forensic genealogy to capture nonviolent offenders as well.

What About the Other DNA Companies?

So far, other players in the DNA testing field such as 23 and Me, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage, have resisted law enforcement, but recently AncestryDNA decided to comply with law enforcement requests, but only if they have a court order.

It appears that Americans in general, aren’t concerned about sending a relative to jail. Additionally, in most cases, the DNA of the suspect will match distant relatives such as second, third, or fourth cousins, who, more than likely, don’t even know each other.

So, the debate rages on. Some people believe that the use of DNA databases by law enforcement is an invasion of privacy. The proponents of the use argue that when your DNA enters a database, your matches, generally people you don’t know, have access to the exact same data. Perhaps it’s how the data is used that has some people concerned.

So, what to you think? Do you side with law enforcement or see it as an invasion of privacy? To be sure, this matter will continued to be debated in courtrooms around America for years to come, given that this is a new approach for many law enforcement agencies.