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Law Enforcement Use of DNA Samples Found in Genealogy Websites

DNA can be extremely important, determinative evidence in cases where DNA may be one of the only ways in which to solve a cold-case. The FBI and state law enforcement agencies have created their own databases of DNA taken from criminals, as well as DNA samples that are related to unresolved cases where a match later on could lead to not only a suspect, but potentially a perpetrator to put behind bars.

Though committing a felony seems like an obvious situation where one’s DNA will be placed on file for future references, those who merely provide their DNA samples for ancestry and genealogy websites and companies to help identify living and dead ancestors are not expecting that information to be used by law enforcement.

Genealogy Websites Combed Through by Law Enforcement to Find Suspects

In 2015, it was estimated that Ancestry and 23andMe, two genealogy websites that help link relatives around the world together, have collected more than a million samples of data from their customers. What is not overly emphasized is that that information can be subject to police review, especially where the need may be found to be pressing and a judge permits the subpoena of the DNA information.

A Wild Goose Chase in New Orleans

This happened recently in New Orleans to a famous filmmaker named Michael Usry who became a suspect in an unresolved murder case. His father had submitted a saliva sample, which was a partial match to the familial genetic composition of semen collected at the scene of the homicide in 1996. In other words, though the father was not a match, and therefore, not a part of the murder, the partial match suggested that it was someone who was a genetic relation to the man. The filmmaker was ultimately determined to be innocent but it shed light on a significant privacy issue that may, as a result of the growing samples collected by these genealogical companies, affect those who are unaware that their genetic material will be used in that way.

Third Party Rights to Protect Its Clients

Companies are beginning to follow the practices of Google, Facebook, and Twitter by reporting transparency records regarding the number of times that law enforcement has requested access to their users information. Genealogy companies are considering drafting similar reports so that users are more aware of the privacy policies of the companies that they provide DNA samples to. Both Ancestry.com and 23andMe attest that they do not release information about their clients unless a court order is served.

The Privacy Concerns to Consumers

Many believe that websites that do accumulate DNA samples should provide support to law enforcement because it is part of their responsibility toward the public to ensure their safety. Others, however, believe that these types of databases infringe on our privacy rights, especially in instances, like this one, where the person who was thought to be the main suspect did not voluntarily submit his DNA to the genealogical website. Just because the father took on the privacy risks, did not mean that his son did as well. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the courts will respond to any future probing through commercial databases to search out criminal suspects.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been implicated in a crime due to DNA samples that were taken involuntarily, it is important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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