Police Use of DNA Leads To Backlash, Policy Change For GEDmatch

Police investigators have used popular online DNA databases to solve at least 50 open murder and rape cases, reports the Associated Press. But now, “complaints about invasion of privacy have produced a backlash, leading the Florida-based database known as GEDmatch to change its policies.”
The nonprofit website’s previous practice was to permit police to use its database only to solve homicides and sexual assaults. But its operators granted a Utah police department an exception to find the assailant who choked unconscious a 71-year-old woman practicing the organ alone in church. The assailant’s DNA profile led detectives to the great-uncle of a 17-year-old boy. The teen’s DNA matched the attacker’s, and he was arrested. GEDmatch soon updated its policy to establish that law enforcement only gets matches from the DNA profiles of users who have given permission.

That closed off more than a million profiles. More than 50,000 users agreed to share their information — a figure that the company says is growing. The 95% reduction in GEDmatch profiles available to police will dramatically reduce the number of hits detectives get and make it more difficult to solve crimes, said David Foran, a forensics biology professor at Michigan State University…

The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics say granting law enforcement exceptions that violate a website’s policies is a slippery slope. They also believe broad genetic searches violate suspects’ constitutional rights. While many people instinctively support the technique if used to catch serial killers or rapists, they might feel differently about their DNA profiles being analyzed to pursue burglars and shoplifters.
The site’s co-founder tells the AP they’ve now sent an email to users encouraging them to opt-in to police searches.

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