Golden State Killer case has privacy implications

Published on Thursday, 10 May 2018 19:57
Written by All they have to lose are the most intimate family secrets.

By The Washngton Times

Genetic science has dramatically expanded the methods of bringing criminals to justice, but not every measurement is meant for prying eyes, and the dive into the gene pool can turn the lights on the good, the bad, the ugly and everyone in between. But there are costs.

Cries of “bravo!” sounded when dogged police work and cutting-edge technology led to the arrest of the so-called “Golden State Killer” last week in California. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, thought to be responsible for the murder of 12 persons and the rape of 50 women in the Sacramento area between 1974 and 1986, put the look of total shock on many faces.

Investigators used GEDMatch, a publicly accessible database for genealogists, to identify similarities between the DNA left at scene of the crime and genetic profiles that distant relatives of the suspect had posted on the website. Then cops obtained a match.

California now wants to expand the collection of DNA in pursuit of solving other crimes.

The Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018 would, among other things, require persons convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors to submit DNA samples for inclusion in a state database. Proponents are trying to collect 500,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot in November.

A triumph of science that dispenses justice long delayed is worthy of praise, but there are footnotes to the story worth pondering.

There are laws already on the books to protect Americans from the abuse of secrets contained in their DNA.

But, when sensitive genetic data lands in the public domain, whether from the needs of law enforcement or simply the curiosity of family history hunters, it’s likely that private data won’t stay private for long.

Tracking down the evil among us is a legitimate use of genetic information, but Californians and others across the nation should be cautious before they jump head-first into the expanding gene pool.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Thursday, 10 May 2018 19:57. Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2018 19:59.