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Florida Judge Issues First Warrant for Consumer DNA Website, Potentially Opening All DNA Information to Law Enforcement Everywhere

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A decision by a Florida judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court that recently came to light has turned the tables on to what extent police can rely on genetic databases in criminal investigations. Specifically, the judge reportedly provided law enforcement with a warrant that would allow  them to override the privacy settings of one such website—GEDmatch—and search the website’s database of 1.2 million users.

As a result of the detective discussing this warrant at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago in November, a number of officers and detectives approached the speaker and requested a copy of the warrant, indicating that this one decision could change everything in terms of user privacy and constitutional rights when it comes to these DNA websites. Specifically, it is expected that law enforcement agencies will now be “emboldened” to go after much larger genetic databases, such as the 15-million-person Ancestry.com database. Conversely, until this warrant was issued, law enforcement was somewhat cautious about approaching these websites with court orders out of fear that it could lead to witnesses becoming too frightened to cooperate.

If Warrants Become the Norm, Genetic Databases Become Law Enforcement Databases

Not only are there concerns regarding users of these websites never consenting to the use of their DNA for these purposes when they signed up, but, according to experts, every criminal is going to have a number of relatives in every major genealogy database; meaning that, if this warrant that was granted by the one judge in Florida becomes the norm, all genetic database could essentially become law enforcement databases.

History of Law Enforcement Use of DNA Websites

Historically, law enforcement started using those websites that could be described as the most “open”: these include FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch, which allow people to upload their information and look for relatives. Other systems—such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe—are closed, whereby users have to send in their saliva to a lab, and receive information as a result. These companies have, for years, reassured users that they would resist allowing law enforcement to access their databases. Still, according to published transparency reports, while 23andMe has not reportedly released any data, Ancestry.com has complied with seven requests from law enforcement, all of which supposedly involved fraud, credit card misuse, and/or identity theft, and were not related to providing genetic information.

While 23andMe has insisted that, even upon receiving a valid inquiry from law enforcement, they would use all measures possible to protect consumer privacy, police detectives have indicated that access to Ancestry and 23andMe databases would lead to many crimes being solved overnight, and they are eager to keep trying.

Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been accused of a crime as a result of information obtained from a DNA database, contact our experienced Orlando criminal attorneys at the Baez Law Firm to find out how we can ensure that this evidence is excluded and your rights are protected.

 

Resource:

nytimes.com/2019/11/05/business/dna-database-search-warrant.html

https://www.baezlawfirm.com/the-u-s-supreme-court-will-hear-a-case-that-in-instrumental-in-our-fourth-amendment-rights-staying-protected/

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