DNA

Warrantless DNA Grab Used to Nab Serial Killer is Truly Frightful

While much of our time worrying about the use of the internet has to do with keeping our children from experiencing certain “feelings” at a premature age, there are far more frighting scenarios out there to ponder.

The internet is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong.  It has made human beings essentially omnipotent, with devices in their pocket capable of not only realtime, worldwide communication, but we’ll never leave a barroom argument unsettled again.  With the power of Wikipedia, Google, and other such all-encompassing sites, there is no reason for ignorance any longer.  Education, at least in basic form, is now completely free for the taking.  The only question left is who will finally use the world wide web for such?

On the flip side, however, the internet grew so incredibly fast that legislators are having a difficult time keeping up with the ever-changing legal landscape of the world wide web.  For instance, do websites such as Facebook and Google have a right to peek into, publish, or sell your browsing history and data to advertisers?  Who owns your online profile?  When Google or Facebook sells this data to these marketing miscreants, how are you compensated?

Spoiler alert:  You’re not.

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Further down this rabbit hole we find a question even more terrifying:  Who owns the data regarding your DNA?

In the last few years, home DNA testing kits have been all the rage, with human beings the world over curious to know the full, scientific history of their ancestors.  (Well, except for Elizabeth Warren.  She likes her plausible deniability).

These DNA testing kits come from sites such as Ancestry.com, or through the popular “23 And Me” company, and after sending you pack a tidy little package of details from your self-administered sampling swab, they keep a file on record as if it was their own.  The concern now is whether or not anyone but you can access that data.

It’s bad enough that the evil marketing geniuses of the world would like to get ahold of your genetic predisposition for products they sell such as medicine and booze, but it looks as though there are few protocols in place for the retrieval of this data by police, even if you’re not precisely the subject they are interested in.

In the case of the Golden State Serial Killer, the bizarre story takes an even more sinister turn.

In March 2017, an Oregon City police officer, working at the request of investigators in California, convinced a judge to order a 73-year-old man in a nursing home to provide a DNA sample.

Court documents obtained by The Associated Press said detectives used a genetic profile based off DNA from crime scenes linked to the serial killer and compared it to information on a free online genealogical site.

Investigators cited a rare genetic marker, which the Oregon man shared with the killer, to get the judge to issue the order. The Oregon City man is in extremely poor health in a rehabilitation facility and was unable to answer questions Friday.

Here’s where it gets troubling…

His daughter said his family was not aware that authorities took a DNA sample from him while he was lying in bed at the rehabilitation center until she was contacted by the FBI in April 2017 and asked to help expand the family’s genetic tree in the search for suspects.

The woman, an amateur genealogist, cooperated, but ultimately investigators determined none of her relatives were viable suspects, she said. The woman spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she did not want the family’s name publicly linked to the case.

“I don’t like that they thought that my dad was the bad guy, but the truth is they were able to rule out people in my dad’s (family) tree,” she said. “They didn’t have to look at those people anymore.”

And even more disturbing…

On Friday, Joseph James DeAngelo appeared in court to face murder charges. Handcuffed to a wheelchair in orange jail scrubs, the 72-year-old looked dazed and spoke in a faint voice to acknowledge he was represented by a public defender. He did not enter a plea.

DeAngelo, a former police officer, has been charged with eight counts of murder, and additional charges are expected, authorities said.

“We have the law to suggest that he is innocent until he’s proven guilty,” said his attorney, Diane Howard.

Investigators arrested DeAngelo on Tuesday after matching crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored in an online database by a distant relative. They relied on a different website than in the Oregon search, and did not seek a warrant for his DNA. Instead, they waited for him to discard items and swabbed them for DNA, which proved a conclusive match to evidence from crimes more than 30 years ago, they said.

The co-founder of the genealogy website used by authorities to help identify DeAngelo said on Friday that he had no idea its database was tapped by law enforcement.

That last bit is of the ultimate importance, knowing that police weren’t exactly forthcoming in their efforts to obtain the DNA information.

Further worrisome is the fact that a distant relative was the source, and not DeAngelo himself, further muddying the waters of 4th Amendment protections against the gathering of such data.

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