Limitations to the Police Use of Geneology Databases

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BillTre

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Here is a NY Times article that provides an update on this issue.

A detective has obtained a warrant to gain access to GEDmatch, which was very restrictive to police access.

In July, he asked a judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida to approve a warrant that would let him override the privacy settings of GEDmatch’s users and search the site’s full database of 1.2 million users. After Judge Patricia Strowbridge agreed, Detective Fields said in an interview, the site complied within 24 hours. He said that some leads had emerged, but that he had yet to make an arrest. He declined to share the warrant or say how it was worded.

Detective Fields described his methods at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago last week. Logan Koepke, a policy analyst at Upturn, a nonprofit in Washington that studies how technology affects social issues, was in the audience. After the talk, “multiple other detectives and officers approached him asking for a copy of the warrant,” Mr. Koepke said.
 

russ_watters

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So, what do you think of the following. OK or not?
  1. Suspect gives his DNA to a database; police then use it against him. (Presumably OK)
  2. Suspect does not give his DNA to a database, but family members do. Police use this DNA as evidence against the subject.
  3. Nobody gives their DNA to a database, but family members give the police their DNA "to exclude them". The police then use this against the subject, who (under advice of counsel) refused to provide his.
  4. Nobody gives their DNA to a database, but family members are compelled to give their DNA to the police. Since they are not suspects themselves, the 5th amendment doesn't apply. The police again use this against the subject, who (under advice of counsel) refused to provide his.
I'm ok with all except possibly the last one. The "not a suspect" part is an odd criteria to me.
 
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Suspect does not give his DNA to a database, but family members do. Police use this DNA as evidence against the subject.
I don't think is what actually happens. The prosecutor does not go into trial saying, "the DNA evidence shows the killer is this (family member's) great uncle. This man (the suspect) is her great uncle. Therefore he did the killing."

Rather, the family member's DNA helps the police identify the suspect; once they "know" who to look into, their further investigation produces the actual evidence which is then used "against the subject."
 

Ygggdrasil

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MIT Technology Review has an interesting article that argues that these geneology databases pose a national security threat:
If a foreign counterintelligence agency grabbed a million American DNA profiles, that country could use genetic genealogy to identify the true identity of American spies or diplomats, locate their relatives, or discover genetic kompromat like unacknowledged children. Since other countries don’t have such databases for the US to steal, the risk would not be symmetric.

The article also notes that security researchers recently found and disclosed various security vulnerabilities to the GEDMatch site that the police used to ID the Golden State Killer. The site, run by five part time volunteers, notes that they have no way of knowing whether their databases have been compromised and the small organization likely does not have the resources to ensure its data is secure from professional, government-sponsored hackers.

Just because the US decides on guidelines for the use of genetic information does not mean that other governments around the world will follow.
 

BillTre

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Well, that's an interesting twist.
 

Bystander

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US decides on guidelines for the use of genetic information
DNA was used in a rather high profile "operation" just recently (no further information is permitted per PF guidelines) that suggests "symmetry/assmmetry of risks" is open to some debate; my apologies to MIT.
 

StatGuy2000

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MIT Technology Review has an interesting article that argues that these geneology databases pose a national security threat:


The article also notes that security researchers recently found and disclosed various security vulnerabilities to the GEDMatch site that the police used to ID the Golden State Killer. The site, run by five part time volunteers, notes that they have no way of knowing whether their databases have been compromised and the small organization likely does not have the resources to ensure its data is secure from professional, government-sponsored hackers.

Just because the US decides on guidelines for the use of genetic information does not mean that other governments around the world will follow.
It's an interesting argument, and is certainly something that private firms specializing in genealogy databases need to seriously consider in terms of their cybersecurity.
 

StatGuy2000

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Here is a NY Times article that provides an update on this issue.

A detective has obtained a warrant to gain access to GEDmatch, which was very restrictive to police access.
Without knowing more about the scope of the warrant or its wording, it is difficult to know the extent of the precedent this would pose.

All the same, I personally have no issue with law enforcement agencies using data from genealogy databases so long as they can demonstrate that they can provide justification to do so, by applying for a search warrant, signed off by a judge (as the detective mentioned in this NY Times article has done).
 
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So, what do you think of the following. OK or not?
  1. Suspect gives his DNA to a database; police then use it against him. (Presumably OK)
  2. Suspect does not give his DNA to a database, but family members do. Police use this DNA as evidence against the subject.
  3. Nobody gives their DNA to a database, but family members give the police their DNA "to exclude them". The police then use this against the subject, who (under advice of counsel) refused to provide his.
  4. Nobody gives their DNA to a database, but family members are compelled to give their DNA to the police. Since they are not suspects themselves, the 5th amendment doesn't apply. The police again use this against the subject, who (under advice of counsel) refused to provide his.
The Supremes have decided that freedom of speech and of the press are inclusive of rights to not speak or print.

That would presumably include not giving up your DNA without a warrant.

For me. it matters how badly we want a particular bad guy (e.g. Golden State Killer) -- if he's a serial rapist/killer or as bad or worse then I favor bending the rules -- in Chicago there was a guy who was running a dope spot at an el station, and I didn't much care when I, on my way to a nearby grocery store, would at times see him and his associates plying his/their trade. I deplore the associated self-destruction being facilitated, and I especially detest pushers, but in general I sadly let such things not command much of my attention. But when this horrible bad guy had some other horrible bad guys hold down a homeless guy, and the leading bad guy poured gasoline on the poor homeless guy, and then lit the guy on fire, burning him to death (it was presumably premeditated -- people don't generally walk around carrying a full 3-gallon gasoline container just on happenstance), I became infuriated, and resolved to go hunting against at least the primarily instigatory horrible bad guy (I was the Assistant Director of a martial art school in the neighborhood and I was thinking about a Civilian Marine Unit giving that horrible bad guy a new address 8 miles East into Lake Michigan), but then the Chicago Police ramped up and got him first.
 
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That would presumably include not giving up your DNA without a warrant.
That was my initial thought as well, but it is more complicated than that. State laws vary but many states can compel DNA sample once they have arrested you. And the US Supremes said that was OK; I believe in a case involving the Maryland state laws.
 

jbriggs444

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That would presumably include not giving up your DNA without a warrant.
Fourth amendment seems more on-point than first or fifth. DNA is not speech.
U.S. Constitution said:
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
 

Vanadium 50

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It's a Fourth Amendment issue.
 
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It's a Fourth Amendment issue.
Prior to Watson and Crick's DNA work. and prior to PCR-GE, one could give out one's own personally identifying information (e.g. fingerprints, photographic facial image) without giving out his third cousin's identifying information.

Although I do not disagree with those who opine, as you have, that the right to not have our own DNA information unreasonably seized is a Fourth Amendment issue, a putative right that corporations and private individuals should not be allowed to make the DNA information of others, without their consent, publicly available, is more akin to a natural and automatic copyright issue.

That's something I view as part of the issue set regarding reasonable restrictions on rights, specifically on what we have broadly categorized as freedom of the press, which makes it also a First Amendment concern.
 
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