Can Our DNA Be Used For Law Enforcement Purposes?
News of the “Golden State Killer” being caught—and the methods used to catch him—have made news headlines of late. What is particularly shocking to people is just how the detectives got a break in the case; specifically, their reliance on genetic information taken from databases like Ancestry.com and 23andMe to track him down. Is this a violation of our rights, and should we be concerned?
In fact, the data many people put into genealogy sites could be used by law enforcement a lot more often. While, in the case of the Golden State Killer, it wasn’t the 23andMe database that was specifically used, law enforcement used one like that, and tracked down the suspect by first tracking down his relatives, who had plugged their information into one of these genetic history databases.
Privacy & Fourth Amendment Violation Concerns
How are these genetic database companies able to share this information with law enforcement in investigations like these? According to some reports, police will collect the DNA of unknown suspects at crime scenes and compare it to the government’s genetic information database, known as “CODIS.” Officers can also use CODIS to run “familial searches” in order to identify close biological relatives.
Chances are that we will see litigation filed over violation of privacy rights for issues like these in the future. More than 1.2 million customers have sent their saliva onto 23andMe to learn more about their genetic backgrounds. Many do not realize that police could potentially gain access to this data.
It is a fair question to ask whether this is a violation of one’s fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, similar to law enforcement seeking cell phone data from Google. While more and more digital information is available online about us every day, this does not necessarily mean that we have all authorized police to search through it. If police aren’t allowed to look through your cell phone data without a search warrant, why should they be allowed to sort through your DNA information?
Florida Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Attorney
As of now, companies like these absolutely should not be working with law enforcement and turning over this information unless, at a minimum, a court order is produced. 23andMe maintains that it has never turned over any information to police, in spite of official requests. However, Ancestry self-reported that it released a customer’s DNA to police in compliance with a search warrant in 2014.
If your privacy rights have been violated in conjunction with a criminal investigation and/or you are the victim of an unreasonable, illegal search, speak with our experienced criminal defense and civil rights attorneys at the Baez Law Firm right away. We represent clients in Miami, Orlando, and surrounding areas.