Recently, genealogy research website GEDMatch violated its own terms of service policies, thinking they had a good reason. Now, after public backlash, that policy has been made stricter. The public sees the move as a change for the better but law enforcement isn’t so happy.
Previously its database of DNA from customers was searchable by the police but only in cases of murder and rape. This is the same company that analyzed the genetic material used in case of the Golden State Killer. The uproar started when customers found out that GEDMatch helped the police in an assault case out of Utah.
An arrest was made, taking a violent criminal off the street, but there was massive public outcry. Millions of Americans wondering if their DNA had been leaked forced GEDMatch founder Curtis Rogers to rethink his decision to aid the police.
Under the new terms of service, “violent crimes” as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, such as cases involving non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault and robbery, will remain searchable.
Except in cases of “violent crimes,” customers by default will be kept out of police searches. Clients have a choice to opt in but cannot automatically be searched. As Rogers explains:
“We realized that our terms of service were too narrow. We have since expanded them so they basically are the same thing as FBI requirements for violent crimes.”
The pundits at CNN were shocked at this decision. CeCe Moore, an investigator who worked on the Utah case, had this to say:
“We can be sure there are hundreds of cases that would have been solved in the coming months or year that very well won’t be now.”
Moore also went on to state “people will die,” because of the new policy.
Genealogist Judy G. Russell disagrees. She has a legal degree, so writes about legal issues in genealogy. When she heard what happened, she withdrew her recommendation of the site, writing:
“[GEDMatch] made a decision, on their own, without consulting their users, to expose the data of those users to the police because the police made a compelling argument. Now it may very well be that the vast majority of those users would have agreed with that decision — if they had been asked. But they weren’t asked.”
GEDMatch made the right decision to tighten controls over who gets access to what. Protecting privacy is the most important aspect both in customer service and in government. Our country was founded on the idea of individual rights. Technological advancements like this always threaten to encroach on our rights.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
There will always be people who say that sacrificing a little privacy or freedom will make us all safer in the end. These are the same people that would likely defend widespread surveillance programs with the age old saying “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”
Privacy is important and giving the government access to a database of DNA from millions of people is dangerous. Cases like this will likely find their way to the Supreme Court, and when they do, the justices will likely strike them down as a violation of the fourth amendment.
Until that point, if you intend to send your DNA to one of these companies, read the fine print.