Genealogy and The Golden State Killer: Part Two

11 September 2018

Exploring concerns regarding law enforcement's access to your DNA.

For professional genealogists, the emergence of genetic genealogy as a discipline has been a boon to our industry. This tool can help introduce new evidence into an investigation previously blocked by a seemingly permanent brick wall when used in conjunction with a well-built family tree. DNA testing can also help validate prior research. Though the use of DNA testing cannot solve every family history riddle, it can be a tool of inestimable worth.

When any newer, rapidly developing technology is offered for public consumption it is usually accompanied by concerns about what might be the “downside.” As with social media and online banking, one of the primary issues consumers focus on is privacy. Because commercial DNA testing has made the news recently, the public is increasingly curious about the safeguards the testing companies employ. What will become of my DNA once tested? Who has access to this information? Who owns the testing company? An amazing source of genetic testing data is the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG). ISOGG is a clearinghouse for the latest DNA testing information and educational articles by industry professionals. This site offers testing kit comparison charts1, up-to-date testing company policies and terms of use2, as well as plain-language explanations of legalities peculiar to the use of collected genetic data.

One of the most recent news stories to stir consumers' privacy concerns is that of the Golden State Killer. Joseph James DeAngelo, age 72, was arrested on 24 April 2018.3 He is alleged to have killed twelve and raped over forty-five in California during the seventies and eighties.4 Detectives in this case used the site GEDMatch, which accepts DNA samples from outside sources, most likely uploading a sample taken from a known Golden State Killer crime scene. Samples in GEDMatch's database that provided a match were analyzed and potential suspects were eliminated by age and geographical area.5 Once DeAngelo was identified as one of these potential suspects, investigators surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from an item he had discarded.6 DeAngelo's DNA matched and he awaits his fate in a Sacramento jail cell. In a statement released 27 April 2018 GEDMatch said in a statement that their Site Policy informed users that DNA samples in their database may be used in this way.7

And though many applaud the trail-blazing police work, there are those who are uncomfortable with the ease with which law enforcement was able to access this information. This discomfort may dissuade people who otherwise might have considered DNA testing. For those harboring concerns that their most personal genetic fingerprint will be the subject of unlawful search and seizure, this article by The Legal Genealogist8 lays out why that is unlikely to be the case. As the Golden State Killer case illustrates, law enforcement can legally obtain any DNA sample from any item that remains in the public domain, nullifying the need for a warrant. And because some testing outfits accept DNA results from outside parties, law enforcement may legally use these databases.9
Another issue to consider before undertaking genetic testing is ethics. Carefully compare a company's testing procedures, sample retention practices and accessibility of results, among other issues that may be of concern. There are some actions a test-taker may opt out of, depending on the company, such as participating in medical research.

Ethics is equally an important quality in professional genealogists. Utilizing DNA to solve kinship questions is an essential skill in a potential hire, but so are the principles guiding their handling of your genetic information. A professional should not only know which type of test to recommend, based on the research question, but also respect a subject's refusal to participate in a research project. Family historians should also be aware of the potential sensitivity of the subject material.10 A number of industry professionals, comprised of genealogists and geneticists and others, formed a committee that has established accepted genetic genealogy standards, practices and ethical guidelines. The Genetic Genealogy Standards11 website has a PDF available outlining these principles.

As DNA technology progresses, it provides an invaluable asset to professional genealogists. This powerful avenue for evidence-gathering brings with it unexpected and ever-evolving challenges that must be taken into consideration for the clients' protection.

 

1 ISOGG Wiki, "Privacy policies, consent forms and terms and conditions’," ISOGG.org (https://isogg.org/wiki/Privacy_policies,_consent_forms_and_terms_and_conditions : last updated 4 September 2018, at 17:48 : last accessed 11 September 2018), compilation of links.
2 Tim Janzen, "Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart’," ISOGG.org (https://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart : last updated 31 July 2018, at 12:22 : last accessed 11 September 2018), chart.
3 Vicki Gonzales. "Former investigator: East Area Rapist case stands out because of ‘evil that was in those crimes’," KCRA.com (https://www.kcra.com/article/former-investigator-east-area-rapist-case-stands-out-because-of-evil-that-was-in-those-crimes/22794875 : published 21 August 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-3.
4 Catherine Ho. "Investigator who used DNA database to catch Golden State Killer suspect will write a book," SFChronicle.com (https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Investigator-who-used-DNA-database-to-catch-12883249.php: published 2 May 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-8.
5 TheDNAGeek "Genealogy and the Golden State Killer," TheDNAGeek.com (http://thednageek.com/genealogy-and-the-golden-state-killer/: published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 9-10.
6 Thomas Fuller "How a Genealogy Site Led to the Front Door of the Golden State Killer Suspect," NYTimes.com (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/26/us/golden-state-killer.html : published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-6.
7 TheDNAGeek "Genealogy and the Golden State Killer," TheDNAGeek.com (http://thednageek.com/genealogy-and-the-golden-state-killer/: published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 17-19.
8 Judy G. Russell, "Privacy, the police and DNA," LegalGenealogist.com (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/ : published 8 February 2015: last accessed 11 September 2018), article.
9 Ibid.
10 Blaine T. Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne, Genetic Genealogy in Practice (Arlington, Virginia : National Genealogical Society, 2016), pages 16-17.
11 “Genetic Genealogy Standards,” downloadable PDF, Genetic Genealogy Standards (http://www.geneticgenealogystandards.com/ : last accessed 11 September 2018); 3 pages, the Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee.

Genealogy and The Golden State Killer: Part Two

11 September 2018

Exploring concerns regarding law enforcement's access to your DNA.

For professional genealogists, the emergence of genetic genealogy as a discipline has been a boon to our industry. This tool can help introduce new evidence into an investigation previously blocked by a seemingly permanent brick wall when used in conjunction with a well-built family tree. DNA testing can also help validate prior research. Though the use of DNA testing cannot solve every family history riddle, it can be a tool of inestimable worth.

When any newer, rapidly developing technology is offered for public consumption it is usually accompanied by concerns about what might be the “downside.” As with social media and online banking, one of the primary issues consumers focus on is privacy. Because commercial DNA testing has made the news recently, the public is increasingly curious about the safeguards the testing companies employ. What will become of my DNA once tested? Who has access to this information? Who owns the testing company? An amazing source of genetic testing data is the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG). ISOGG is a clearinghouse for the latest DNA testing information and educational articles by industry professionals. This site offers testing kit comparison charts1, up-to-date testing company policies and terms of use2, as well as plain-language explanations of legalities peculiar to the use of collected genetic data.

One of the most recent news stories to stir consumers' privacy concerns is that of the Golden State Killer. Joseph James DeAngelo, age 72, was arrested on 24 April 2018.3 He is alleged to have killed twelve and raped over forty-five in California during the seventies and eighties.4 Detectives in this case used the site GEDMatch, which accepts DNA samples from outside sources, most likely uploading a sample taken from a known Golden State Killer crime scene. Samples in GEDMatch's database that provided a match were analyzed and potential suspects were eliminated by age and geographical area.5 Once DeAngelo was identified as one of these potential suspects, investigators surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from an item he had discarded.6 DeAngelo's DNA matched and he awaits his fate in a Sacramento jail cell. In a statement released 27 April 2018 GEDMatch said in a statement that their Site Policy informed users that DNA samples in their database may be used in this way.7

And though many applaud the trail-blazing police work, there are those who are uncomfortable with the ease with which law enforcement was able to access this information. This discomfort may dissuade people who otherwise might have considered DNA testing. For those harboring concerns that their most personal genetic fingerprint will be the subject of unlawful search and seizure, this article by The Legal Genealogist8 lays out why that is unlikely to be the case. As the Golden State Killer case illustrates, law enforcement can legally obtain any DNA sample from any item that remains in the public domain, nullifying the need for a warrant. And because some testing outfits accept DNA results from outside parties, law enforcement may legally use these databases.9
Another issue to consider before undertaking genetic testing is ethics. Carefully compare a company's testing procedures, sample retention practices and accessibility of results, among other issues that may be of concern. There are some actions a test-taker may opt out of, depending on the company, such as participating in medical research.

Ethics is equally an important quality in professional genealogists. Utilizing DNA to solve kinship questions is an essential skill in a potential hire, but so are the principles guiding their handling of your genetic information. A professional should not only know which type of test to recommend, based on the research question, but also respect a subject's refusal to participate in a research project. Family historians should also be aware of the potential sensitivity of the subject material.10 A number of industry professionals, comprised of genealogists and geneticists and others, formed a committee that has established accepted genetic genealogy standards, practices and ethical guidelines. The Genetic Genealogy Standards11 website has a PDF available outlining these principles.

As DNA technology progresses, it provides an invaluable asset to professional genealogists. This powerful avenue for evidence-gathering brings with it unexpected and ever-evolving challenges that must be taken into consideration for the clients' protection.

 

1 ISOGG Wiki, "Privacy policies, consent forms and terms and conditions’," ISOGG.org (https://isogg.org/wiki/Privacy_policies,_consent_forms_and_terms_and_conditions : last updated 4 September 2018, at 17:48 : last accessed 11 September 2018), compilation of links.
2 Tim Janzen, "Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart’," ISOGG.org (https://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart : last updated 31 July 2018, at 12:22 : last accessed 11 September 2018), chart.
3 Vicki Gonzales. "Former investigator: East Area Rapist case stands out because of ‘evil that was in those crimes’," KCRA.com (https://www.kcra.com/article/former-investigator-east-area-rapist-case-stands-out-because-of-evil-that-was-in-those-crimes/22794875 : published 21 August 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-3.
4 Catherine Ho. "Investigator who used DNA database to catch Golden State Killer suspect will write a book," SFChronicle.com (https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Investigator-who-used-DNA-database-to-catch-12883249.php: published 2 May 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-8.
5 TheDNAGeek "Genealogy and the Golden State Killer," TheDNAGeek.com (http://thednageek.com/genealogy-and-the-golden-state-killer/: published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 9-10.
6 Thomas Fuller "How a Genealogy Site Led to the Front Door of the Golden State Killer Suspect," NYTimes.com (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/26/us/golden-state-killer.html : published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 1-6.
7 TheDNAGeek "Genealogy and the Golden State Killer," TheDNAGeek.com (http://thednageek.com/genealogy-and-the-golden-state-killer/: published 26 April 2018: last accessed 11 September 2018), paragraphs 17-19.
8 Judy G. Russell, "Privacy, the police and DNA," LegalGenealogist.com (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/ : published 8 February 2015: last accessed 11 September 2018), article.
9 Ibid.
10 Blaine T. Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne, Genetic Genealogy in Practice (Arlington, Virginia : National Genealogical Society, 2016), pages 16-17.
11 “Genetic Genealogy Standards,” downloadable PDF, Genetic Genealogy Standards (http://www.geneticgenealogystandards.com/ : last accessed 11 September 2018); 3 pages, the Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee.

Get In Touch
P.O. Box 363
Garrison, Texas
(936) 347-3016
Heritage Research Twitter
Name
Email or Phone
Message
Please check the box below.

© Heritage Research 2018  |  Privacy Policy
Reproduction of part or all of the contents of this site in any form is expressly prohibited other than for individual use only and may not be recopied and/or shared with a third party. The permission to recopy by an individual does not allow for incorporation of material or any part of it in any work or publication, whether in hard copy, electronic, or any other form.