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Stalemate in Use of DNA Profiles from Consumer Databases to Help Crack Cold Cases

More than a year ago, in April 2018, police announced that they had used a new investigative technique to arrest a man known as the Golden State Killer. For the first time, the police submitted DNA from a crime scene into a consumer DNA database, where the information in that database about distant relatives helped them to identify the suspect. Since that announcement, DNA databases have been used to help solve more than 50 rape cases and homicides in 29 different states. However, this year, GEDmatch, the consumer DNA database that helped police crack the Golden State Killer case, changed its privacy policy to restrict law enforcement searches. GEDmatch’s revised terms set forth specific details of how investigators were using the website and excluded all users from law enforcement searches unless they specifically opt-in. This dropped the number of profiles available to investigators from more than 1 million to zero overnight. While some users do opt-in to allow their data to be accessed by investigators, cases remain a bit more difficult to solve now.

This drop in accessible data has caused law enforcement agencies to start campaigns to persuade the public to opt-in and share their DNA profiles from consumer websites with law enforcement for investigative purposes. Rightfully, many members of the public are reluctant to share this information for fear that their DNA profiles will be used for other purposes or sold to marketing or health care companies. Nevertheless, law enforcement continues to urge the public to allow access to these data for the greater good. So far, about 180,000 users have opted-in. But before you choose to release your DNA profile, be sure to do your due diligence and learn more about what it might mean for the future privacy and security of data.

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About this Author

Kathryn Rattigan Attorney Cybersecurity Data Privacy
Associate

Kathryn Rattigan is a member of the firm's Business Litigation Group and Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team. She advises clients on data privacy and security, cybersecurity, and compliance with related state and federal laws. Kathryn also provides legal advice regarding the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. She represents clients across all industries, such as insurance, health care, education, energy, and construction.

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Compliance

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