Golden State Killer
Columbia - After the arrest of a suspected serial rapist and killer in California. Some are concerned that their genetic information, especially DNA, is available for public use.
Rodney Uphoff, MU Law School, said this DNA often makes or breaks criminal cases.
"DNA can be a vehicle that allows an innocent person to not be prosecuted, or sometimes someone's being convicted and DNA isn't found or tested until after they've already been convicted."
Some crimes, like the case of the Golden State Killer, can be tipped off by DNA of a relative.
A local metagenomicist, Aaron Ericsson, said its as simple as a person submitting a DNA sample to track his or her family tree.
"Theoretically, our DNA shouldn't be available just for general purposes. People shouldn't be able to just get on a database and browse through our DNA sequences. But there's a bunch of ancestry-type sites now and different services that offer profiling of specific cancer risks genes or just tracking down your ancestry," Ericsson said. "There are different depositories out there that are starting to amass some DNA sequences from individuals who have submitted their samples. But I think it's an open question as to how accessible those databases are to other folks wanting to go in and look at this data."
Uphoff said some DNA samples are collected and not tested for decades and that, in itself, is problematic.
"We need to do a better job in collecting DNA early on and preserving it in a way that doesn't contaminate it in some fashion," Uphoff said. "If I was spending criminal justice dollars, it would be more effective to rely on DNA rather than eyewitness sightings. DNA makes it more likely to hold the right guy responsible."
According to CNN, the suspected Golden State Killer was discovered through his cousin's DNA on a genetic database called GEDmatch. Some question their right to privacy but GEDmatch's terms and conditions notes that measures are taken "to ensure that only registered users have access to your results, but those measures have not been and never will be perfect. Direct access to your data is available to GEDmatch personnel, including volunteers, on a need to know basis."
Ericsson said DNA, if analyzed correctly, can trace back to even the most distant of relatives.
Currently, there are no laws prohibiting the use of DNA from online databases in relation to criminal cases.