Police reportedly used data from GEDMatch, a genealogy research site where users upload genealogical and genetic information, to help identify the man suspected of being the notorious Golden State Killer.
That site, which provides tools for people to conduct their own searches against uploaded data, said in a statement that it wasn’t aware of the police investigation and told users they could email to ask that existing data be deleted if they were concerned about privacy.
“Although we were not approached by law enforcement or anyone else about this case or about the DNA, it has always been GEDmatch’s policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses, as set forth in the Site Policy ( linked to the login page and https://www.gedmatch.com/policy.php),” according to the statement. “While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes. If you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded.”
GEDmatch didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from Fast Company.
Other genetic search sites say they’re rarely approached by law enforcement for genetic data. A transparency report from 23andMe, updated December 15, lists five “user data requests,” with no material shared with law enforcement. The company has confirmed it’s never shared data with law enforcement, The Verge reports.
Similarly, transparency reports from Ancestry say it has only ever received one request relating to genetic material: “a 2014 search warrant ordering us to provide the identity of a person based on a DNA sample that had previously been made public for which the police had a match. We disclosed information in response to that valid warrant.”
That warrant reportedly involved a 1996 Idaho Falls homicide, where investigators detected a partial match between fluids found on the victim and a Mississippi man who contributed genetic samples to a project sponsored by the Mormon church. The data had since been transferred to Ancestry, which disclosed the man’s identity in response to the warrant. Police initially suspected the man’s son, though police later found he wasn’t a genetic match for the DNA taken from the victim.