Catching the Bad Guys Using Genetic Genealogy, a Cutting-Edge Investigative Tool

Genetic Genealogy has been in the news frequently of late. Traditionally, Genetic Genealogy has referred to the use of DNA, along with other genealogical methods, such as written records and family accounts, to infer relationships between individuals, and to locate one’s ancestors.

However, more recently, genetic genealogy has been used by law enforcement as a powerful tool to link individuals to unsolved crimes. By example, police in Northern California arrested Roy Waller, the “NorCal Rapist,” using genetic genealogy. Waller stands accused of binding, sexually assaulting and robbing at least 10 women during home invasions which occurred in Northern California between 1991 and 2006.

In addition, earlier this year, genetic genealogy was utilized to arrest the infamous “Golden State Killer,” Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo was arrested after information found on the consumer genealogy website, “GEDmatch,” dramatically narrowed the pool of suspects. Some view the investigative methods used to make these arrests as controversial, as it is argued that the use of genetic genealogy infringes on one’s right to privacy.

While the GEDmatch database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants and users of similar sites understand the possible uses of their DNA, which include potentially identifying themselves, or relatives, as persons who have committed crimes. A GEDmatch spokesperson advised that users who are concerned that their profiles may be used for “non-genealogical uses” should remove their information from the site, or refrain from uploading it.

What do you think? Is the use of genealogical data for reasons other than identifying members of your family tree, and/or your ethnicity, an invasion of privacy? How would you feel if law enforcement snooped around your family tree? Please feel free to comment.

Scott Bonebrake is a general practitioner in Media, PA, and has been a licensed attorney for 23 years. Please feel free to contact Scott with any legal questions or concerns at 610-892-7700, or at sbonebrake@noelandbonebrake.com.