A Case for Public DNA

Image shows blue mean perpetual lavender.I read it, I watch it, I listen to podcasts about it. True crime captured my interest as a young girl and never went away. The stories validate the fears a lot of women and men live with and gives a voice to people who have felt silenced. The quest of solving mysteries and achieving justice for those in the wake of crimes adds drama. But when done poorly, true crime can fetishize victims and glorify perpetrators.

In 1992, Christy Mirack, a young woman who taught in my school district, died before it was her time. She was murdered. She wasn’t going to get to finish the school year as a teacher. She wasn’t even going to get to celebrate Christmas that year.  Her family and friends were robbed of a lifetime of additional memories of time together. The pain isn’t going away, closure is a hollow concept.

This week the notorious murder case from my hometown, cold for 25 years, made the news. Preserved DNA evidence finally led to an arrest. Investigators submitted a DNA profile info to a public database, GEDmatch. They followed up familial matches with traditional police methods by narrowing down the results to possible suspect(s), surveillance of suspect(s), and careful collection of disposed items with DNA. Once investigators matched the new DNA sample to the case evidence DNA, a suspect was taken into custody. 

This is the same way police made an arrest earlier this year in the Golden State Killer cold case. Familial match, genealogy research, surveillance, collection of suspect’s discarded DNA, verified sample match, arrest. 

This new technology with the familial matches brings up legal and ethical concerns. By considering the details, I see how this can be admissible in court rather than call it a rights violation.

Not all genetic testing/DNA type sites are public or open-sourced. For example, 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com are both private, for-profit companies and have stated they do not offer their info to law enforcement without court orders.

GEDmatch is a free, volunteer run site. Its terms of service are different than private companies. Depending on where you submit your DNA, it will be used differently. 

Also, I can’t control if a relative of mine submits a sample. But I also can’t control if a relative of mine reported me to police if I committed a crime. I see familial matches as another form of becoming a person of interest. More investigation is needed. 

What we discard is fair game for police. As I understand it police can collect your trash without a warrant. Why would police obtain a search warrant thereby possibly tipping off a person of interest when they can use surveillance and verify matches before pursuing a warrant for arrest. 

While I can support DNA being used to track down and eliminate or verify persons of interest as alleged criminals, I harbor doubts when it enters realm of healthcare. It’s hard for me to believe for-profit companies partnering with for-profit healthcare corporations would use genetic info in my best interest. Who will be able to access my personal health info if I submit a DNA sample?

While I like the idea of finding cures for certain conditions and catching violent criminals, lots of questions crop up.  Meanwhile, even if suspects are found guilty in a court of law, it won’t restore lost lives like innocent Christy Mirack’s.

What do you think of public genealogy companies and DNA evidence links? What about private companies? And what about health info access? If you are not American, how does your country handle this? Tell me about it.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Casee says:

    I see the day coming when many people won’t be able to get health insurance because of results of DNA tests we didn’t agree to take. Maybe they will get it from a discarded napkin or a relative who submitted their DNA as a hobby or a curiosity. We are traveling down privacy roads that we have no idea where they will take us. I have never given my DNA to any site but I wouldn’t be surprised if one has a close match. It’s no different than the fact that I don’t give out my private telephone number but it is in databases because people that have it sign up for apps that ask to use their contact list and they give them permission without realizing that they are giving away other people’s information without asking the person if they are okay with that. I think we are heading towards a dystopian privacy nightmare but the horse is out of the barn now.

    1. Yes, it’s unnerving the myriad of ways info is divulged thru acquaintances and we didn’t consent with the social media stuff. I never used to get marketing calls on my cell but this year it started happening frequently and I block numbers now.

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