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April 27, 2018

What does the Golden State Killer case mean for genetic privacy?

  • Government
  • Judicial
  • Industry
  • Genetics/Genomics

STAT – The identity of one of California’s most notorious serial killers had been a mystery for decades — until this week, when law enforcement arrested a suspect. Investigators revealed on Thursday that they made the breakthrough using a remarkable tool: a genealogy website.

The unusual manner in which the Golden State Killer case was cracked has sparked wonderment — as well as privacy concerns about how law enforcement can and does use the genetic information that consumers give up to genetic testing companies. That’s because companies generally say on their websites that a customer’s genetic information can be shared with law enforcement if demanded with a warrant.

Details about exactly what happened in the Golden State Killer investigation remain murky, but here’s what’s known: Investigators took DNA collected years ago from one of the crime scenes and submitted it in some form to one or more websites that have built up a vast database of consumer genetic information.

The results led law enforcement to the suspected killer’s distant relatives, who were presumably among the millions of consumers who have paid up and mailed in a spit kit to track down long-lost family members, learn more about their ancestry, or gauge their risk for medical conditions. That created a pool of potential suspects under the same family tree that investigators eventually narrowed down to 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, the Sacramento Bee and other news outlets reported.

Read more at STAT.