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Police are using genetic testing companies to track down criminals

Police are using genetic testing companies to track down criminals
[Photo: kropekk_pl/Pixabay]

In an astonishing bit of work, police were able to track down the man they suspect of being the Golden State Killer after matching his DNA with the DNA of distant relatives thanks to a commercial genetics testing company. As StatNews reports:

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Investigators took DNA collected years ago from one of the crime scenes and submitted it in some form to one or more websites that have built up a vast database of consumer genetic information.

The results led law enforcement to the suspected killer’s distant relatives, who were presumably among the millions of consumers who have paid up and mailed in a spit kit to track down long-lost family members, learn more about their ancestry, or gauge their risk for medical conditions. That created a pool of potential suspects under the same family tree that investigators eventually narrowed down to 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, the Sacramento Bee and other news outlets reported.

The Sacramento County district attorney’s office would not confirm which genealogy sites investigators used and whether law enforcement relied on voluntary or involuntary cooperation from the company or companies. Popular genetic testing companies 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Ancestry have denied involvement in the investigation.

Privacy advocates have long been concerned that consumers are unaware that by submitting their DNA to these companies they are agreeing to let the companies share their DNA with law enforcement. There is also concern that the imperfect tests could put innocent people at risk. All the major commercial genetic testing companies’ policies state they will turn over your DNA to law enforcement when required to with a subpoena or warrant.

Update: The Mercury Daily News is reporting that the lead investigator in the Golden State Killer case has confirmed which DNA company law enforcement used to track down the fugitive.  That would be open-source genealogy website GEDmatch. The site allows users to share their genetic profiles for free. Because the site is open-source no court records were needed to access the DNA records on it.

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