Can Cops Get My DNA From a Genealogy Website?

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on May 03, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Californians are celebrating the arrest of suspected serial killer and rapist, Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo is alleged to have killed 12 people and raped more than 50 women in the 1970s and 1980s throughout the state, terrorizing California communities.

But what makes this cold case even more intriguing is the fact that it was solved using DNA and a genealogy website. And while that tactic may have furthered the cause of justice in this case, it leaves many people wondering if the cops can access their DNA from these types of genealogy websites.

Old DNA Samples and New Technology

First, it's important to realize that law enforcement in this case didn't just go online and look up the suspect's DNA. His DNA profile wasn't online. They used DNA already collected from old crime scenes and entered the profile into an open-source genealogy website called GEDmatch, where users agree to make their information public.

After entering that data, more than 100 users matched as distant relatives to the killer. Over time, they narrowed their search to a pool of people. Once DeAngelo was included in the pool of potential suspects, investigators obtained his DNA sample from discarded trash and tested that against crime-scene DNA. It was an overwhelming match.

Cops and DNA

Normally, cops are allowed to take DNA from a suspect and search a federal database of other people who were arrested or convicted of felonies. California was the first state to allow familial line testing in 2008, but these searches were unfruitful in the East Area Rapist case, so cops turned to the open-source DNA website. It remains to be seen whether law enforcement's tactics in this case will hold up in court.

Additionally, it's important to note that programs like Ancestry and 23andme - which are not open-source DNA companies - keep their customers' information more private. They say they will only share DNA information with law enforcement if forced to by court order. So, if you're worried about exposing your DNA to the cops through one of these genealogy websites, be sure to read their privacy policy first.

If you think your DNA was illegally obtained by law enforcement, contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.

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