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The Golden State Killer and Your Genetic Privacy

Do you have a reasonable expectation of genetic privacy under the Fourth Amendment?

DNAtestingShowfaceDreamstimeShowface/DreamstimePolice believe that they have nabbed the notorious "Golden State Killer," a man who committed a series of rapes and murders in California in the 1970s and '80s. Their suspect is former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, age 72, who has lived for many years in Sacramento. DNA evidence played the main role in identifying him.

Investigators retained DNA evidence from the Golden State Killer's crime scenes, but they were not able to match it to any of the convicts' and arrestees' DNA profiles stored in the FBI's Combined DNA Index System. As a workaround, police decided to take advantage of the fact the millions of Americans (including me!) have had their genetic information tested by various commercial companies, often as part of their personal genealogical research.

The main commerical companies all claim that they will not surrender their clients' DNA test results to the police without a proper warrant. So should regular citizens be concerned about how the cops used DNA here?

In this case, probably not. The police reportedly drew on the open-source GEDmatch service, which does not test DNA but allows users searching for relatives to them to upload the results of such tests from other companies. Apparently, a relative or two of DeAngelo had submitted test results to GEDmatch. This familial genetic link led the police to suspect DeAngelo. The police directly connected DeAngelo to the murders and rapes by matching old crime scene DNA to his obtained from some item(s) he had recently discarded in public.

Leaving your DNA results on a publicly accessible website doesn't seem to raise any Fourth Amendment concerns about unreasonable searches or seizures. As the East Bay Times reports:

Lead investigator Paul Holes, a cold case expert and retired Contra Costa County District Attorney inspector, said his team's biggest tool was GEDmatch, a Florida-based website that pools raw genetic profiles that people share publicly. No court order was needed to access that site's large database of genetic blueprints. Other major private DNA ancestral sites said they were not approached by police for this case.

Ars Technica notes an email them from GEDmatch co-founder Curtis Rogers:

"Although we were not approached by law enforcement or anyone else about this case or about the DNA, it has always been GEDmatch's policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses, as set forth in the Site Policy," he wrote. "While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including information of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes. if you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded."

Many courts have ruled, citing cases involving photographs and fingerprints, that we do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment that the police will not pick up any DNA that we happen to leave in public.

In my case, the police would not need any sort of court order since I have published my genetic test results online for anyone to see. I am no more worried about my genetic privacy than I am about my fingerprint privacy. I don't plan on committing any felonies, but any of my relatives who may be thinking of embarking on a life of crime—you've been warned.

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  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Lead investigator Paul Holes, a cold case expert and retired Contra Costa County District Attorney inspector

    His favorite line:

    "Looks like your story...
    *dons sunglasses*
    ...is full of Holes."

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He also likes to say that during sex.

  • Seamus||

    I don't plan on committing any felonies, but any of my relatives who may be thinking of embarking on a life of crime—you've been warned.

    You may not be planning on it, but the average person commits three felonies a day, or so I'm told.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I see your point! Amen!

    Also, I worry that genetic profiles gathered today (by whatever means) for what are non-felonies TODAY, will be, in the future... Say, under President Oprah Winfrey... Be used to prosecute me for having, in the past, hurt someone's baby feelings, with what I wrote about!!! And don't tell me that "retroactive laws" can't be enacted, because the power pigs do whatever they want to do! Period!

    Fart innocently as a sweet baby today, be hung for it when you are age 35!!!!

  • CE||

    How long until the insurance companies (or the government national institute of health) starts accessing the publicly available data to set your rates or exclude you from treatment?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You think that is not happening?

  • Merl3noir||

    Some insurance companies are looking at genetic data for long term issues. Helping their clients to get preventive treatments can save them millions. Also with gene therapy, some genetic issues could be treated for a very small cost in the near future saving even more. So it could be that your insurance company will offer discounts if you have you get a DNA test done. Much like you can get large discounts for getting a health check done currently.

    If Insurance companies start saying we will give you a 50% discount if you have your DNA tested with an offer to provide any gene therapy you may need. The insurance company may keep it private, but those individuals may also choose to share their DNA results.

    With a large enough database you could loose a lot of privacy without consenting to it. DNA is not like a fingerprint that would just say you where here. It says many things about who you are, as well. I'm much more worried about how it may be used in the future. I think it is great that the police can use it to track down a serial killer. And right now most DNA data is so complicated most people can't do a lot with it beyond looking at who may be related to you. But who knows how much data is already posted to the internet that in the future we may feel reveals to much intimate private details to anyone that cares to look at it, for any reason they desire.

  • gah87||

    I am no more worried about my genetic privacy than I am about my fingerprint privacy.


    Given the inaccuracy of DNA testing, you should be.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Not much media attention on this good point.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    Not to mention the inaccuracy of fingerprint testing.

  • John||

    If my sister chooses to share her DNA with some private service, I don't see how I have any standing to stop her or prevent that service from doing whatever it wants with it. Thems the breaks.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You can't stop her. The constitution stops the state from fishing in that companies info for data to solve crimesw without a warrant based upon probable cause.

    You might not like it but thems the Bill of Rights.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    People putting their dna blueprints on Facebook. Yeah, kay.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    They best be careful they don't get cloned by Russian hackers.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Or the factory meat folks.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I would totally clone Bailey and raise him without any vaccinations.

  • John||

    And only let him drive a manual shifter car with drum breaks and no power steering. I am pretty sure Bailey has a recurring nightmare where he is reincarnated to be raised without vaccinations and forced to drive an automobile.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    That was probably just his childhood.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Wouldn't we just stuff Bailey in a self-driving car and let nature take its course.

  • John||

    And this technique is not new. Police caught the BTK killer in Wichita Kansas in 2005 by getting a sample of his sister's DNA and comparing it to some found at one of the crime scenes.

  • Rhywun||

    I read that as "BK Killer". Wendy's?

  • John||

    He wrote taunting notes to the media describing himself as the "Bind, Tie, Kill" killer. Thus, BTK. They had his DNA because the sick fucker murdered an entire family and then jerked off on the carpet. It offends me to think he is still breathing my air living rent free in prison.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I believe it was "Bind, Torture, Kill." Which is worse.

  • John||

    Yes, you are right. And that is worse. One of the more horrifying things about that case was that he kept the whole thing secret and was married for over 30 years and raised several kids. Can you imagine being his wife or kids and finding out dad was secretly one of the most depraved serial killers in history? Fuck what a nightmare.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I remember seeing some book that touched upon the parents of Jeffery Dahmer and how they dealt with that surprise.

  • Rhywun||

    Just read the wikipedia entry of another serial killer who was active in my home town: Arthur Shawcross, who was on his third wife at the time of his first 2 killings before doing 12 years, and apparently had a girlfriend during his next 12 murders. WTF.

  • SQRLSY One||

    A "duh, obvious" comment, but... As long as they use genetics or WHATEVER tech they can find, to catch and punish mass murderers and psychopaths, I am OK with it...

    HOWEVER, I do NOT trust the power pigs to restrain themselves! Today, they use the "new tech" to catch utter assholes; tomorrow, they use it to bust me for, ???, blowing on a not-prescribed-to-me, cheap plastic "lung flute"!!!! Or scratching my ass w/o permission!!! The BAHSTAHDS can NOT be trusted!!!

  • ||

    I remember from some years ago news stories about someone finding out that he was Charles Manson's son.

  • SQRLSY One||

    The Bible has some totally contradictory shit in it about "the sins of the father will be passed down to the 10th generation" v/s (in Ecclesiastes if I recall correctly) "that theory is totally full of shit"!!!

    I am waiting to be blamed for my ancient ancestors having practiced genocide against the Neanderthals... President Oprah Winfrey will probably be behind this new policy, I suspect...

  • Shirley Knott||

    We will collect money for generous reparations, which we guarantee to pay to any Neanderthals who show up at the prescribed offices. Office space, staff, and a management hierarchy will, of course, need to be fully funded so we can be prepared. As well as staff to write and then monitor the budget, the payment process, the vetting of candidates for reparations, etc.
    [surviving Denisovans hardest hit]

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That game is much worse than the Fuck, Marry, Kill game.

  • John||

    I shouldn't find that funny but I do.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Okay, Fuck, Marry, Kill?: Tony, shreek, Kathy Griffin. Explain your reasoning.

  • John||

    Tony is an eager power bottom, you have to kill someone and Griifin is as good a choice as any. Shreek? I got nothing.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I want to just link to this post every time you and Tony start fighting.

  • John||

    Tony is sad, confused and angry.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Sometimes we hurt the ones we love, BUCS.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    So you're gonna marry shreek because you're out of other options? I guess that is how marriage works...

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    He could do worse if you like being left alone. Most of the time Shreek is just out by the river yelling at clouds.

  • John||

    That is a really good point BUCS

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yeah, but it'll get pretty hairy if he forgets to refill his prescriptions or when the current medication starts losing its effectiveness. He is not well.

  • D.D. Driver||

    What is new is that the police are using DNA to find the sister, cousin, uncle, etc., rather than identifying a suspect and then using a relative's DNA as confirmation.

    This is kind of a big deal. I think we will see lots of cold cases (and hot cases) get cracked in the near future as more and more people upload their DNA into public databases.

    Cops will no longer need to wait until someone gets arrested and has *their* DNA put in a law enforcement database. Now, they will take crime scene DNA and run it against public databases to find near relatives and work from there.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It's a fishing expedition. Which is specifically prohibited by the 4th amendment.

    This time it caught a murderer but I am sure the state will ignore all the false arrest claims brought by citizens.

    It's better to let a million murder go free than end up with a state that considers all citizens suspects.

  • Jerryskids||

    former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo

    The double whammy - you know he's guilty because he's a *former* police officer, if they're referring to a cop as a cop it means he's going to skate, if they refer to him as an ex-cop he's going down. Then there's the three names thing - all serial killers and assassins go by three names, don't trust anybody with three names.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Then there's the three names thing - all serial killers and assassins go by three names, don't trust anybody with three names.

    I always get nervous around the triple-named.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Okay, "Sparky Leftist Poser."

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Who are major three named serial killers?

    John Wayne Gacy. What are some others?

  • ||

    Why Do So Many Assassins Have Three Names?: The suspected gunman in Arizona is Jared Lee Loughner, of course.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Almost no one calls him that though. Just Jared Loughner. Is the question really why do so many people have middle names?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    That article mentions Gary Leon Ridgeway too, which I almost never hear. People just say Gary Ridgeway.

  • sarcasmic||

    Is it serial killers who go by three names, or is it assassins. Or both. I dunno.

  • CE||

    I think most people have 3 names, and the media uses 3 names for the notorious so they are confused with fewer innocent people.

  • Eidde||

    That probably explains it.

  • CE||

    Apparently he lost his job as a cop when he was arrested (by a citizen shopkeeper) for shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellent. And police never suspected him of being the Visalia Ransacker, a notorious burglar who used pry tools and operated 10 miles away and seemed to be familiar with police tactics, which helped him elude capture for years.

  • Arcxjo||

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    That is a little creepy, though. Send your DNA to get some fun little trivia about your heritage, and - don't look now, but you're now in a database that can be searched by government agents!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Why, you might as well have a yahoo.com email address!

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    yeah no joke :(

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Or, Real Talk, a Facebook account.

  • the original jack||

    I found a whole new family with multiple siblings that I never knew existed (or they I) through DNA testing. And that was a "cold case" that started 65 years ago.

    I can just imagine where we will be in a few years when the powers that be start in using the DNA databases as a regular crime solving tool. Moving into some real science fiction territory here.

  • Harvard||

    Just what I need to find. An entire alternate family. Phuck me to tears.

  • CE||

    Imagine finding offspring you never knew you had (or them finding you)....

  • Harvard||

    You're not laying Crusty off on me that easily, dna or no dna.

  • Texasmotiv||

    GEDmatch sounds like a dating site for high school dropouts.

  • CE||

    if you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded."

    Fair warning for you, the GEDMatch user. For your relatives, not so much.

  • Arcxjo||

    The 5th Amendment protects you from ratting yourself out. The 4th does not protect you from others doing so.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yes it does. The police didn't know who in the family matched the DNA samples. They were fishing which is specifically prohibited by the 4th amendment.

  • Ecoli||

    Interesting idea regarding the fourth. I doubt legal scholars (SCOTUS, the only legal scholars that matter) would agree with you.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Where is that exception listed in the 4th amendment? It's not. The government is using work-arounds to side-step the 4th amendment and some poeople are allowing that to happen.

    The case sho7ld be dismissed with prejudice for the government's failure to follow the constitution.

  • Amir Najam Sethit||

    Thank you sharing informative article.

  • LwoodPDowd||

    http://www.13abc.com/content/n.....46211.html

    Little premature for the whole "nothing to see here" response. Too lazy to write up a clean narrative, so just bullets.

    They compelled an innocent 70 year old man provide a DNA sample based on distant DNA connection. What other actions could a judge compel based on such shitty evidence. Seize his guns?

    SNP based DNA data contains health information. Has all the data for the innocent and guilty suspect been stored in a HIPAA compliant fashion?

    What was the original source of the sample from where the DNA was collected, is it a pure sample or does it also contain sufficient DNA from the victim to implicate their family members, and to reveal health information from the victim?

    DNA data for CODIS is STR analysis partially because it was the earlier technology but also because it is harder to connect directly to health information.

    Police labs as unlikely to have Illumina SNP based array technology, particularly arrays compatible to the custom arrays used by the common genotyping companies (which would be necessary for uploading to GEDmatch). Given the lack of details discussed so far (and the implication from news article that the earlier false lead was through a different database) they likely submitted the sample for processing to one of the DNA companies the explicitly require an acknowledgement that you have the legal right to the DNA.

  • Ecoli||

    The police DID NOT compel this old man to provide a DNA sample. They simply collected a discarded item that contained his DNA and used that DNA to match to DNA collected at the crime scene.

  • Ecoli||

    Sorry. The article you posted was about a different old man, whose DNA cleared him of the killings. The PoPo had probable cause to think he might be the GSK and got a warrant to collect his DNA. His DNA did not match the crime scene DNA and he was cleared.

  • LwoodPDowd||

    Being related to someone who is related to the person who committed a crime should not be what defines probable cause for a search.

  • Hank Phillips||

    A First Responder™, murderous sex crimes? Maybe he can get a Presidential pardon.

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