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Is Familial DNA Testing TMI?

(OP: JUNE 25, 2018)

The Golden State Killer Sparking Conversation  

The arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer, responsible for a dozen murders and 50 rapes from the 1970's and 1980's is raising questions regarding privacy rules and regulations. Joseph DeAngelo, a former cop, was arrested  after determining one of his relatives' genetic information was a close correlation to a swob of DNA found at one of the many crime scenes committed by the Golden State Killer. Investigators found correlation within a genealogy database that was a similar match to the DNA at the crime scene. This lead to investigators to recover Joseph’s DNA through looking at his trash outside his home. There they found a direct match from the DNA from the trash to the DNA found at several crime scenes. The DNA testing that was used in this case was known as “familial DNA testing”. Familial DNA testing is a growing system that has raised ethical concerns in the forensics community. While genealogy sites claim that all information is private, there is a twist when it comes to law enforcement. Many genealogy sites explain that if their company is shown a court ordered warrant for a  specific user, the website is required to be reliant and hand over the information. After the Golden State Killer shed some light on the hazy privacy regulations many customers became skeptical to continuing using such services. According to genealogy websites and databases, all information is safe and stored, but once your results are processed, the user is prompted to either download their file or file it away in the database itself. When users download their file to their computers, it is not the databases’ responsibility to keep track of who can see their genetic makeup and correlation between people.

Has geneology tests information ever convicted someone of a crime?

Many years ago the supposed Idaho Murderer was convicted through DNA provided from his father in a genealogical database, but he was later  cleared as the DNA was not an exact match. Although that investigation was a dead end, California, the first state in the country to authorize familial DNA testing, successfully arrested the “Grim Sleeper” from 1985- 2007 on the information they collected from genealogy databases.


Many people believe solving a cold case is an impactful way to give back to society, while others are scared for the safety of their loved ones. Some critics claim that familial DNA testing puts innocent people behind bars. Others claim it puts shame to innocent people that are related to the suspect as they claimed: “DNA testing has drawn criticism from some attorney and civil liberties who say that it unfairly involved law-abiding people in cases because of their family members” (Jay Stanley ABC news). If customers did not know their information was being used, how were they able to consent to it? After hearing the news about the Golden State Killer, many customers feel their information is not secure anymore and their rights are being violated. Several years ago when these databases were becoming popular, The Federal Trade Commission warned customers of the implications of privacy.  Some citizens are concerned this is just the start of police abusing genetics within investigations for small, less serious crimes.

Different Lenses

With any new technology, some people will not agree, while others are willing to accept the new technology as it is providing good services for the rest of the population. While many people look down upon these databases now, many citizens are becoming connected and starting new journeys with their new families. I personally know a man who was reconnected with his biological father and his biological three brothers and has started a journey of getting to know one another. He stated this decision was the best idea he has ever had as he discovered a whole new family to add to his family tree. Law enforcement officials have argued that DNA comparing can provide investigates with valuable leads in cases and help bring some justice to this world. Do you think genealogy websites should have the ability to use personal data in criminal cases?