A genealogy website that has helped police solve cold cases, such as the case of the Golden State Killer, has decided to change its privacy rules.
GEDmatch, which is a website where people are able to research their family trees, is one of the main DNA databases that police use for genealogy information. It allows police officers to potentially identify an unknown suspect by comparing their DNA to those of family members that have submitted their information to the website.
The first public arrest made with the assistance of GEDmatch’s database was that of the “Golden State Killer.” Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, was arrested in April of 2018, who is believed to have been the Golden State Killer. He was linked by DNA to at least 12 murders and 45 rapes in California throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Data from GEDmatch has been used to help solve over 50 criminal cases so far.
GEDmatch is now changing its privacy rules, making it harder for police to access its DNA data. Users are now automatically opted out of making their information available to law enforcement. Users will have to manually change their settings in order to opt in.
“Ethically, it is a better option,” Curtis Rogers, GEDmatch co-founder, told ABC News. “It’s the right thing to do.” Rogers declined to cite a specific reason for the change, although some users have been expressing privacy fears over an exception made recently for a case in Utah.
Law enforcement isn’t happy about the change to GEDmatch’s privacy rules. “It’s going to make our cases a lot harder to solve,” Michael Fields, from the Orlando Police Department, said. “It’s a shame it could leave a murderer running on the streets, but I perfectly understand why they’d want to change that.”
Fields also added, “Everything that we do in law enforcement, we’re always adjusting to new standards and new rules, so it’s something that we’ll just have to adjust to.”
In the future, law enforcement will have to get a search warrant or take GEDmatch to court in order to obtain private user profiles.
“You will start to see search warrants being written on GEDmatch,” said Paul Holes, who is a retired investigator that helped solve the Golden State Killer case. “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.”