It is very common these days for people to search their ancestry; online businesses offer to help you trace your lineage – for a fee, and some of your own DNA. It is a fairly simple process: you pack up a saliva sample and send it to a company who will help you trace your family tree.
But how safe is your DNA when you send a saliva sample? Is law enforcement, for example, using your DNA (without your permission) to help them solve crimes?
Such was the case recently in Sacramento County, California. DNA of an unidentified relative led to the arrest of a rape suspect in California. Apparently, police found a familial connection from DNA collected several years ago at a crime scene linked to the East Area Rapist.
Later, police followed the suspect and collected his DNA from discarded cups and cigarettes. They got a hit, and the man was picked up and jailed.
Typically, genetic searches by law enforcement are limited to those whom they have arrested. One forensics expert who has studied the use of DNA in criminal investigations says this is the first such case he has come across. “If that’s how the match was obtained, then I would think there would be court battles to come,” he says of the Sacramento case.
California is the first state to allow familial line testing of DNA from someone not suspected of committing a crime. The person does not have to be charged or convicted for a sample to be taken. And in spite of much concern that the law goes too far, the state Supreme Court in April upheld the law.
DNA businesses, such as 23 And Me, aren’t necessarily keen on assisting law enforcement using your private data. “It is our policy to resist any law enforcement inquiries with all legal and practical means at our disposal,” a spokesman for the website commented.
So, what do you think? Is your privacy at risk if you attempt to trace your family’s background? And should law enforcement be given access to such information with cause?
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