DNA and Law Enforcement: How the Use of Open Source DNA Databases Violates Privacy Rights

By Guest, Christine | American University Law Review, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

DNA and Law Enforcement: How the Use of Open Source DNA Databases Violates Privacy Rights


Guest, Christine, American University Law Review


Introduction

On April 25, 2018, law enforcement arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a seventy-two-year-old resident of a Sacramento, California suburb, for a string of rapes and murders committed in the 1970s and 1980s.1 The killer had eluded law enforcement for decades and was previously known only as the "Golden State Killer," the "Original Night Stalker," and the "East Area Rapist."2 Shortly after the arrest, details surfaced regarding law enforcement's method for catching the alleged killer. Law enforcement revealed that it had uploaded the unknown suspect's DNA to a DNA database called GEDmatch, an open source website that allows users to upload their genetic profiles from consumer genetic testing sites like Ancestry and 23andMe and make the profiles public to other GEDmatch users.3 Law enforcement had recovered the suspect's DNA from evidence at several crime scenes, and while the DNA connected the crimes to each other, the DNA never matched any of the profiles in law enforcement's own DNA databases.4 Officers stated that they had used the suspect's uploaded DNA sample to identify a biological relative and then identified other individuals in the matched user's family tree, ultimately leading the officers to DeAngelo.5

The arrest of the Golden State Killer was a highly public instance of law enforcement using genetic data uploaded by private individuals to a public DNA database, rather than using state and federal databases, which are more commonly associated with crime-solving.6 Private use of genetic testing has expanded rapidly in recent years, with sites like Ancestry and 23andMe boasting millions of users in their databases.7 Users of these services send in a saliva sample and receive test results with information about their genetics, such as their ancestral countries of origin.8 Users may also elect to share certain identifying information about themselves with other users whom the testing service identifies as possible biological relatives.9 Other sites permit users to upload their genetic profiles and make them public to any other user of the site.10 These public sites are open source, meaning that anyone can access them-including law enforcement.11

Many of the articles concerning law enforcement's methodology published in the immediate aftermath of the Golden State Killer arrest wrestle with optimism for the future of this technique to identify suspects in unsolved cases and wariness of the technique's privacy implications.12 Regardless of the public's trepidation, law enforcement has expanded upon the use of this technique, particularly in cold cases.13 Technology company Parabon Nanolabs has offered assistance to law enforcement in testing DNA samples for upload to sites like GEDmatch,14 and many law enforcement bodies have taken advantage of such offers to solve criminal cases.15

Any profile created by law enforcement on a public DNA database is also public, at least to a certain degree.16 The DNA testing procedures used to obtain the correct format for uploading to a public DNA database are also far more "intrusive" than DNA testing traditionally used by law enforcement.17 While the DNA tests used by law enforcement for inclusion in government databases reveal nothing about the individual's ancestry or medical history, the testing performed by commercial DNA databases is specifically designed to provide personal information, such as the individual's genetic predisposition for certain diseases.18 By uploading a suspect's DNA on a site like GEDmatch, law enforcement is revealing a great deal of highly sensitive data about the suspect to an unknown number of third parties. Additionally, because DNA is shared between relatives, uploading a suspect's DNA profile to a public website may also share data about the suspect's biological relatives.19

This Comment argues that the sensitivity of the information revealed by a suspect's genetic profile is so great that the suspect and the suspect's family maintain a privacy interest in that genetic information. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

DNA and Law Enforcement: How the Use of Open Source DNA Databases Violates Privacy Rights
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.