Technology and Databases have Murderers and Rapists Crying Foul

Did you hear about how the Golden State Killer was finally apprehended?

If you are not familiar with the story, the Golden State Killer spend ten years on a murderous spree carrying out at least 12 murders and over 40 rapes. Evidence from the crime scenes was collected and analyzed, but the investigation seemed to stall. Unless law enforcement knew who the DNA belonged to, it was impossible to make an arrest.

The FBI maintains a national criminal database, called CODIS, contains the genetic profiles of more than 13 million people but the samples they had did not match any of those.

People Volunteer Their DNA

With the advancements in DNA testing that brought the price down and the willingness of people to voluntarily submit their DNA to trace their genealogical ancestry, there was now more and more data available.

Genealogy Enthusiasts and Open Source

Law Enforcement was able to track the suspect through his family tree using a free service called GEDmatch. It is an open-source genomics database primarily used by genealogy enthusiasts.

The killer’s DNA was not a perfect match in the GEDmatch database, but there was a partial match. A distant relative.

Now, other law enforcement agencies are using this for tracking DNA from other violent crimes.

Currently, there is another murderer on trial now who law enforcement was able to track by contracting with a forensic analysis firm who used a genealogy website to trace the suspects DNA to a branch of a particular family tree, breaking the forty-year-old case.

A Shrinking Pool of Suspects

That was the break they needed. The pool of possible suspects went from millions to a single family.

It still took some gum-shoe investigative work to pull it all together, but they were able to narrow it down to a single suspect.

Arrests Made

Police arrested 72-year-old, Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer as the Golden State Killer. Turns out he lived right in the community where the attacks took place.

The Use of Technology

This past May, the company, GEDmatch, tightened up its privacy policy to
in hopes of keeping its data open to genealogist but limiting its use by Law Enforcement.

Is this Legitimate Use

In a trial underway now for a suspected murderer William Earl Talbott II, his defense moved to make the DNA evidence inadmissible.

Although not yet tested in the courtroom, if allowed, it could set a new precedent in cases such as these.

Constitutional Implications

Does this fall under unreasonable search and seizures as protected by the Fourth Amendment? Some in the Legal profession think it might. While others disagree because the family members genetic material was shared voluntarily with the third party testing company, thereby negating Fourth Amendment protections.

But Was the Suspect Aware

Even though family members voluntarily submitted their DNA, the suspect did not, which raises constitutional protection issues again.

Heredity can be traced through genetic material and compared to samples submitted voluntarily family members wishing to trace their ancestry.

Privacy Policies

These third-party Ancestry DNA collection firms maintain strict terms outlined in their detailed privacy policies, and they allow users who submit their DNA to opt out of any sharing.