Those who oppose DNA testing companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA sharing customers’ genetic data with law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes are in the minority, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
The report found that 48% of Americans say it’s acceptable for customers’ genetic data to be shared with police, while just 33% are against it and 18% are unsure. Of those surveyed, women were more likely than men to find the practice acceptable (53% versus 43%), and adults over age 50 were more likely than those in the 18–49 range (56% versus 42%).
The study comes soon after the Department of Justice announced guidelines giving investigators permission to use data gathered by DNA testing websites in investigations. The policy, which went into effect late last year, is meant to balance the Department of Justice’s commitment to solving crimes and protecting public privacy and civil liberties. In summary, a DNA sample taken from the scene of a crime that does not match any samples available in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System will not bring up a lead. As a result, it’s outsourced to a laboratory and is given an in-depth analysis. The genetic profile is then entered into at least one publicly available genetic genealogy service and compared against the genetic profiles of individuals who have voluntarily submitted their own samples.
The computer’s algorithm then evaluates potential familial relationships between the sample donor and the website’s users. If a match is detected, it generates a lead and law enforcement can use the lead to further their investigation using traditional investigative and genealogical methods.
DNA testing in criminal cases was largely brought to light in 2018 when law enforcement discovered the infamous “Golden State Killer,” who murdered 12 people and raped 45 women between 1976 and 1986, by tracking the suspect through his family tree using the website GEDmatch.
Time will tell if more Americans will favor law enforcement utilizing DNA testing data as more criminals are brought to justice.
As seen in the March 2020 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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