How DNA Testing Companies Are Helping Solve Crimes

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nurse with dna test swab
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

At-home DNA testing kits are all the rage, but these companies — and the DNA they collect — can do more than simply tell us where our ancestors originated. They’re also helping solve crimes.

FamilyTreeDNA is one such company that has cooperated with the FBI to help catch violent criminals. According to a statement from the company, FamilyTreeDNA’s laboratory accepts evidence samples from the FBI to generate “data profiles” of potential suspects and victims. The Bureau is then allowed to search FamilyTreeDNA’s genetic databases for possible matches to these evidence samples. However, the FBI would need to produce a legal order to obtain identifying information about any individual whose DNA matched the database.

The Role of DNA Testing Companies in Legal Investigations

One argument for allowing DNA testing companies to cooperate with law enforcement is that they can help solve cold cases and stop criminals on violent paths.

Take the Golden State Killer, for example. Joseph James DeAngelo was finally brought to justice in 2018 after allegedly committing at least 12 murders and dozens of rapes in the 1970s and 1980s. Investigators finally pinned the California killer after using DNA from a crime scene cross-referenced with information on an online DNA database.

Although public opinion was largely positive in the arrest of the Golden State Killer, there’s still some concern regarding the accessibility of one’s DNA information. Police typically collect DNA from a crime scene and then run it against their own database of DNA from known convicted criminals. If there isn’t a match, they’ll sometimes approach privately-owned DNA companies, but they don’t get far. Both 23andMe and Ancestry.com, two of the biggest names in online DNA labs, have refused to deliver information upon request.

In most cases, it’s a legal labyrinth for police to obtain access to your DNA from these companies, if police decide to press the issue (and they usually don’t for that very reason). It’s important to note that law enforcement can seldom force you to hand over your own DNA, either–whether you’re innocent or guilty, you have the right to refuse a DNA test if you’re ever arrested.

Should Your DNA Be Publicly Accessible?

If you decide to send your saliva to an online DNA testing company, be sure you read the privacy policy to understand what such companies may do with your genetic profile when you get your results back.

Adjust your privacy settings on your profile if you wish to remain anonymous to other site members, and to keep your DNA out of third-party hands. Also be sure to check for updates to privacy policies, as they can change at any time.

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