Using DNA and ancestry sites to solve crimes: Good police work or invasion of privacy?


More than 25 years after Lancaster County elementary teacher Christy Mirack was brutally killed, an arrest has been made using DNA evidence and a genealogy site.

The same technology led to an arrest in a 30-year-old double murder case in Seattle and also helped police identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer cases.

Some are questioning whether the method used is an invasion of privacy. Police upload the DNA profiles of unknown attackers to genealogy sites to see if it comes close to anyone who publicly shared their DNA profile.

“There’s just the slippery slope of if you can use people’s DNA without their consent for law enforcement. It could possibly be overreach by the government,” said CeCe Moore, a DNA detective.

“It is acting like a witness,” said Paul Holes, a retired investigator involved in Golden State Killer case. “When I go up and knock on a door and I say, ‘ Did you see somebody who looked like that?’ and they say, ‘I saw him running down the street that way,’ that DNA is doing the same thing, but I just don’t need to talk to that person.”

Brianne Kirkpatrick is the founder of Watershed DNA, which provides genetic counseling on ancestry testing, genetic genealogy, and health.

“There is not a lot written into the law about what these companies can and can’t do and what the rights of the consumer are,” said Kirkpatrick.

It is up to each company to create its policy.

“You have to read the fine print because it’s a little different from one company to the next, what you are agreeing to,” said Kirkpatrick. “People who have a lot of concern about security and privacy, maybe the testing isn’t for them.”

If you have concerns about how your DNA could be used by genealogy sites, do not upload your DNA profile to the database. Experts say websites like 23andMe and Ancestry have more stringent safeguards in place to help keep your information private.

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