27 April 2018 |Thomas McMullan | alphr
“Earlier this week Californian police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., a former police officer suspected to be the perpetrator of multiple murders, rapes and burglaries in the 1970s and 1980s – known as the “Golden State Killer”.
It has since transpired that the crucial piece of evidence in connecting DeAngelo to the crimes was a sample of his relative’s spit, which had been submitted to a genealogical website.
As The Sacramento Bee reports, investigators tracked down the suspect after a painstaking process of comparing DNA from one of the crime scenes with genetic profiles on ancestry websites. The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office wouldn’t name the website, saying in a statement that the details are part of an “ongoing investigation”.
Companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry offer DNA services that let customers profile their genealogy. Both companies have denied helping with the investigation, emphasising that they do not allow law enforcement to access DNA profiles without a court order.
“Broadly speaking, it’s our policy to resist law enforcement inquiries to protect customer privacy,” the spokesman from 23andMe said, claiming that the company had “never given customer information to law enforcement officials.”
A spokesman for Ancestry said the company “advocates for its members’ privacy and will not share any information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process”.
The Mercury News claims the DNA data was pulled from GEDmatch, citing lead investigator on the case, Paul Holes. This has yet to be verified, and GEDmatch has yet to comment, but the Florida-based website is based on genetic profiles that its users have shared publicly and does not require a court order to access.
On GEDmatch’s site, its policy explains that DNA data uploaded to the site can be viewed, searched and compared by any GEDmatch user. “We take steps to prevent your genealogy information from being available to the casual web surfer or to the search engines (e.g. Google). However, we cannot guarantee that your information will never be accessed by unintended means. If you require absolute security, please do not upload your data to GEDmatch. If you have already uploaded it, please delete it.”
The Golden State Killer, also known as The East Area Rapist, is believed to have murdered 12 people, raped at least 51 and broken into hundreds of homes during a spree spanning 1974 to 1986. Announcing the arrest on Tuesday, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said: “The magnitude of this case demanded that it be solved”.