The use of consumer heredity websites to catch killers has been tightened under new laws in two U.S. states, similar to the method used in the 2018 arrests to arrest the “Golden State Killer.” Both Maryland and Montana have made it harder to use criminal hereditary methods in criminal cases to protect human genetic privacy. Investigators will still be able to use this novel and invaluable method, but only if it gives thumbs up from the legal authorities.
In Maryland, new law has ordered that courts must first approve the use of certain forensic genetic genetic DNA analysis and probes. It prohibits investigators from obtaining certain information about the person, such as their medical history, and requires judicial approval before secretly collecting biological samples for genological profiling. Montana’s new law requires investigators to obtain a search warrant before using commercial DNA databases to identify suspects.
The past decade has seen the rise of commercial hereditary and predecessor websites, with people trying to find distant relatives and identify their family trees. However, many are unaware that some (not all) of these platforms share customer genetic data with third parties, from scientists in the pharmaceutical industry to law enforcement. 23 And me, Helix and my predecessors have shut down their genetic databases for law enforcement without a warrant. However, GEDMatch and Family TDNA have previously shared their databases with investigators – sometimes with some notable success.
In 2018, serial killer and rapist Joseph James de Angelo, better known as the “Golden State Killer”, was arrested with the help of genetic insights from the commercial pedigree website GDMatch. There were at least 13 murders, 50 rapes and 120 thefts in D’Angelo California between 1973 and 1986. Police compared the genetic material at the crime scene to the DNA of those who voluntarily submitted their genetic information to a public genealogy database to identify their own family tree. It was able to identify several members of the D’Angelo family and eventually took them to D’Angelo himself.
After following the suspect, they picked up an object thrown to get his DNA, which later linked him to several crimes. D’Angelo was sentenced to life in August 2020 without the possibility of parole. In 2020, a similar tactic was used to identify and arrest Daniel Nikevist, the murderer who stabbed a child and a woman in 2004 in the Swedish city of Linkping.