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The Suspects, Too

There's an overlooked privacy issue with using genetic genealogy approaches in law enforcement: privacy rights of the suspect, writes Nila Bala from the R Street Institute, a conservative and libertarian think tank, at Slate.

Since police in California arrested Joseph James DeAngelo last year in connection with the murders of Katie and Brian Maggiore, victims of the Golden State Killer, genetic genealogy approaches have also been used to arrest suspects in other cold cases, including the 1987 deaths of a Canadian couple in Washington State and in the Ramsey Street Rapist case.

Bala notes that these cases have raised issue surrounding the genetic privacy of people who have contributed their data to online databases, but she adds that suspects themselves have a right to genetic privacy. She writes, for instance, that DNA samples collected at a crime scene don't necessarily belong to the perpetrator of the crime and police could wind up uploading DNA from an innocent person to a publicly accessible database. Further, she adds that most criminal cases on court dockets are misdemeanors. Even if someone is convicted, Bala adds that making their DNA available would make it harder for them to re-enter society after they serve their time, as their information would be available to insurers and employers.

"If we truly believe in second chances for those who have made mistakes, then we must also craft policies to protect suspects' genetic privacy," she writes.