In recent years, law enforcement agencies have increasingly turned to third-party DNA companies, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, to help identify perpetrators of crimes. Law enforcement agencies have increasingly turned to third-party DNA companies, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, to help identify perpetrators of crimes because of the potential for genetic genealogy to provide new leads in cold cases or unsolved crimes. The government’s databases only have a small amount of people in them. These would be offenders and service people generally. If the perpetrator of the crime is not already in the database, there will be no identification. To solve this problem, law enforcement has turned to these third-party companies have a vast amount of DNA information from individuals who have voluntarily submitted their DNA for testing in order to learn more about their family ancestry or genetic makeup.
This information can be extremely helpful in cases where investigators are looking for potential suspects and are unable to identify them using traditional law enforcement methods. In particular, genetic genealogy has become an increasingly valuable tool for law enforcement agencies in recent years. This technique involves the use of DNA data to build family trees, which can then be used to identify potential suspects in criminal investigations. By comparing the DNA data of crime scene evidence to the DNA data in a third-party DNA database, investigators can identify relatives of the person responsible for the crime, which can help narrow down the search for a suspect. This approach has yielded results in several high-profile cases, including the Golden State Killer case and the 1980 murder case in Virginia mentioned below.
The use of genetic genealogy and third-party DNA companies has allowed investigators to solve crimes that have remained unsolved for decades. However, this approach has also raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties, as many individuals who have submitted their DNA to these companies were not aware that their DNA data could be used by law enforcement in this way.
Additionally, the potential for false accusations or wrongful convictions based on DNA data highlights the need for caution and care in the use of this technique in criminal investigations. For example, when one provides a sample for 23 and me or AncestryDNA, there is no assurance that the sample provided is in fact from the reported person. Specifically, there is nothing that prevents me from using a swab to get your DNA and label it with my name. The third-party vendor system of these companies can be fooled by such actions.
While this relatively new law enforcement approach has yielded results in some cases, it has also raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties. In this blog post, we will explore how law enforcement has used third-party DNA companies in criminal investigations and the potential implications of this practice.
One of the most high-profile cases involving the use of third-party DNA came in 2018 when police used genetic genealogy to identify the alleged Golden State Killer, a serial killer and rapist who committed crimes in California in the 1970s and 1980s. In this case, investigators used a DNA sample recovered from a crime scene to create a profile, which was then submitted to a public genealogy website. The website identified several potential relatives of the suspect, which allowed investigators to narrow down their search and eventually identify the alleged perpetrator. Since the Golden State Killer case, law enforcement agencies have increasingly turned to third-party DNA companies in criminal investigations.
For example, in 2021, police in Virginia used genetic genealogy to identify a suspect in a 1980 murder case. Investigators used DNA samples recovered from the crime scene to create a profile, which was then uploaded to a public genealogy website. The website identified several potential relatives of the suspect, which allowed investigators to identify and arrest the alleged perpetrator.
While the use of third-party DNA companies in criminal investigations has been successful in some cases, it has also raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties. Many people are concerned that their DNA data could be used by law enforcement without their knowledge or consent, and that this could lead to false accusations or wrongful convictions. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential for abuse of DNA data, and the possibility that it could be used for purposes beyond criminal investigations. To address these concerns, some states have implemented laws to regulate the use of DNA data in criminal investigations. For example, in California, a law was passed in 2019 that requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant or court order before accessing DNA data from third-party companies. Other states, such as Maryland and Vermont, have passed similar laws.
In conclusion, the use of third-party DNA companies in criminal investigations has become increasingly common in recent years. While this approach has yielded results in some cases, it has also raised concerns about privacy and civil liberties. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that new laws and regulations will be put in place to address these concerns and to ensure that DNA data is used appropriately and responsibly in criminal investigations.