A controversial genetics database has turned over 1.3 million customer profiles – believed to overlap with 60 percent of white Americans’ DNA – to a forensics firm that mines genetic data for law enforcement. What could go wrong?
GEDMatch, one of the world’s largest repositories of genetic data, has been purchased by Verogen, an FBI-linked forensic genetics firm dedicated to exploiting the crime-solving potential of biological evidence. While GEDMatch was founded in 2010 as something of a hobby site for amateur genealogists to upload the results of personal DNA tests (the company does not conduct its own tests) and uncover unknown family relations, it has become better known in recent years for its role in solving the Golden State Killer case – which earned plaudits from law enforcement but excoriations from privacy advocates. Jumping into bed with Verogen – a company founded specifically to weaponize genetic data for law enforcement – indicates GEDMatch is going long on the genealogical panopticon.
ALSO ON RT.COMIt’s frighteningly easy to track someone down via DNA, scientist revealsIt isn’t just the 1.3 million individuals – reportedly increasing by 1,000 every day – who have profiles on GEDMatch who are potentially imperiled by the Verogen acquisition. A 2018 study found that the same DNA search that nabbed the Golden State Killer could serve up data on some 60 percent of white Americans through distant relatives (third cousins or further), with that proportion increasing exponentially as more users sign up to the database. Only about 0.5 percent of US adults are currently subscribed to GEDMatch; when that number surpasses 2 percent, the DNA dragnet will be capable of ensnaring upwards of 90 percent of white Americans.
GEDMatch came under fire earlier this year after its founder allowed police to dig through users’ DNA profiles to solve an assault case, violating the site’s own terms of service that limited authorities’ access to the database to homicide or rape investigations only. Massive public backlash following that case forced GEDMatch to overhaul its terms of service, allowing users to “opt in” to having their profiles matched against police’s crime scene samples, but such nominal barriers have already been deemed irrelevant in court. Last month, a Florida detective bragged to a law enforcement convention that he had obtained a warrant to search the entirety of GEDMatch, opt-ins or no opt-ins, and had every single profile at his fingertips within 24 hours….
My question is: can they search by name or only by DNA sequence?