Genealogy website GEDmatch, which has been used by police to help solve cold cases, is changing its privacy rules and making it harder for law enforcement to access its DNA data.
According to BuzzFeed News, GEDmatch users are now automatically opted out of making their profiles available for searches by police. In order to opt in, users will have to manually change their settings.
“Ethically, it is a better option,” GEDmatch co-founder Curtis Rogers told ABC News, declining to cite a specific reason for the change. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The website, where people are able to research their family trees, is the “main database” that police use for genealogy information, BuzzFeed reported. The science allows police to potentially identify an unknown suspect’s DNA through family members who have submitted their information to the website.
ABC reports the first public arrest made with the assistance of GEDmatch was that of Joseph James DeAngelo in April 2018. DeAngelo is the suspected “Golden State Killer,” who believe committed at least 13 murders and 50 rapes across California throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.
GEDmatch data has been involved in solving over 50 cases so far, ABC and BuzzFeed reported.
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Some law enforcement officers aren’t happy about the change.
“It’s going to make our cases a lot harder to solve,” Michael Fields of the Orlando Police Department told ABC. “It’s a shame it could leave a murderer running on the streets, but I perfectly understand why they’d want to change that.”
“Everything that we do in law enforcement, we’re always adjusting to new standards and new rules,” he said, “so it’s something that we’ll just have to adjust to.”
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Going forward, police who wish to access private user profiles on GEDmatch will have to get a search warrant or take the website to court.
“You will start to see search warrants being written on GEDmatch,” Paul Holes, a retired investigator who helped solve the Golden State Killer case, told BuzzFeed. “Of course there are going to be legal battles. It would not surprise me, years down the road, if this could be a US Supreme Court issue.”
Other genealogy websites including AncestryDNA and 23AndMe do not allow their databases to be search by law enforcement.
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