The Genealogy Site That Helped Catch the Golden State Killer is Grappling with Privacy

Since April 2018, when police announced they had apprehended Joseph DeAngelo, the man they alleged to be the long-elusive Golden State Killer, the floodgates have opened.

The key insight responsible for DeAngelo’s arrest came courtesy of a then-little-known forensic technique known as genetic genealogy: a method in which investigators try to link crime scene DNA to DNA from biological relatives in the hopes of generating leads for identifying suspects or remains. The science behind the technique has been around for a while. Yet the real potential to get hits in these searches has only been made possible by the recent advent of online, easily accessible DNA databases like GEDmatch (where police got a match for a distant relative of DeAngelo’s) and FamilyTreeDNA—sites that now boast more than 1 million user profiles each. Many of these come from individuals who uploaded their own genetic data from popular consumer DNA testing kits like 23andMe and AncestryDNA.

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