In these modern divisive times, even the genetic genealogy community has been torn into two camps. Is it modern nature to react with emotion rather than thought? With the “are you with us or them”? Is this what overuse of social media has done to us? I can see both sides of the issue. Some of you may wonder what I am even talking about ….
The problem has arisen because Law Enforcement (LE) has been using DNA and genealogy databases to help find violent criminals and to resolve many old and cold cases like the Golden State Killer (GSK) case. They are using the techniques and tools that were developed for breaking genealogical brick walls and helping adoptees find their biological families. Personally, I applaud this usage and the closure it brings to the families of the victims. A dear 4th cousin of mine lived in fear during her adolescent years in Sacramento because of the GSK.
However the issues of concern for many genealogists are privacy and consent. Frankly, I think you should not test your DNA if privacy is a worry of yours. So many people have tested now that you can be easily identified if you do it too. My son and two nephews have chosen not test for that reason.
How about consent? Consider the site GEDmatch.com, which was developed to let people compare their DNA tests with testers from other companies, as well as provide many helpful additional tools. If you uploaded your DNA there in the past, had you given your consent for this usage? After the GSK case. I marked all the kits I control as research until each person had responded with permission to open it up. Most were happy with the thought that their DNA might out a distant cousin who was a criminal. Polls show that 90% of Americans are OK with this too.
I have been asking everyone again since GEDmatch now has an specific opt in on each kit for LE usage of those test results in comparisons. There is also an opt in for whether the link to your WIKItree compact tree should show. Both are important. Until many more people have opted in, the benefit of the database for LE is very limited.
Why the opt in now? Why is the genetic genealogy community so divided? What happened?
For the past many months if you uploaded to GEDmatch you saw terms and conditions that stated that law enforcement could use the site for murderers, rapists, and victim identification. Then a 79 year-old woman was assaulted in a church and left for dead. This did not fit the Ts+Cs, but it was very close and the criminal was still out there; so Curtis at GEDmatch gave permission for LE to use the database on this case. Uproar ensued.
At the end of this article I list a number of posts from genetic genealogists that I respect who discuss the issues that resulted in the new opt in requirement.
This is the email and/or PM I recently sent to friends and family:
There is a new “opt in” at Gedmatch, the site where you can compare your DNA to people who tested at other companies.
You gave me your DNA data to upload there and it has been most useful to me.
Now the question is are you willing to allow law enforcement to use it for comparisons to catch violent criminals. Put simply, the DNA of people like us with good trees can be used to solve crimes which I think is great. If this ever starts to be abused we can remove it.
Now for my friends and family who are willing, here is how to give your permission if you have uploaded your kit to GEDmatch yourself:
- Click here to Log into GEDmatch GENESIS
- Scroll down – in the left hand column under the words “Your DNA Resources” you will see a list of all the kits you manage.
- Kits that are not opted in for LE usage look like this, a Police icon with a red X across it
- Kits that are opted in, have the Police icon without the red X over them
- Click the icon or the pencil next to it to edit your profile and change the permission
- On the edit page at the bottom you will see this
- Please check the circle next to “Public with Law Enforcement access” in if you are comfortable with this usage. Remember no one can actually see your DNA test results. What they get with this permission is the ability to compare the kit of a violent offender or victim with your kit to see if you are related to them. In practice they will do a “one to many” on the kit in question and your kit will only show in the results if you are some kind of match and you have opted in.
- As to WIKItree, you have to have a tree there and add your kit number to your profile there.
- Check back at Gedmatch in the next day or two for the opt into WIKItree options (currently I am not seeing them on my profiles for some reason)
- Roberta Estes, “GedMatch Implements Required Opt-In for Law Enforcement Matching“
- Leah Larkin, “Facing DNA Privacy Concerns Head-On With Informed Consent“
- Maurice Gleason, “Civil Liberties vs The Greater Good“
- Blaine Bettinger, “Facing DNA Privacy Concerns Head-On With Informed Consent“