Florida judge grants warrant to search almost a million people in DNA site’s database

Florida judge grants warrant to search almost a million people in DNA site’s database

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The story: A Florida detective was given a warrant to search GEDmatch, a DNA data site, and go through its database containing nearly one million people's genetic information, regardless of whether users agreed to participate in police searches.

According to MSN, the warrant was signed in July by a judge in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court and it appears to be the first of its kind.

“That’s a huge game-changer,” said New York University law professor Erin Murphy. “The company made a decision to keep law enforcement out, and that’s been overridden by a court. It’s a signal that no genetic information can be safe.”

The ruling will most likely encourage other agencies to request similar access warrants from 23andMe and Ancestry.com, two other DNA data sites.

Hey .... visit CNN sometime and ask yourself, “Would this be any different if it were produced by the Democratic party?” #DontTrustTheMedia

Orlando Police Department Detective Michael Fields announced the warrant's existence last week, during the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference held in Chicago. Upturn policy analyst Logan Koepke, who was present during the police convention, said that after Fields' announcement “multiple other detectives and officers approached him asking for a copy of the warrant.”

Police methods: Public DNA data sites have been used by police detectives as methods to identify criminals and solve various cases. In April 2018, California police identified Joseph James DeAngelo, who they believe is the Golden State Killer, by using GEDmatch. Detective Fields himself used GEDmatch to identify a person suspected of murdering a 25-year-old woman in 2001.

After GEDmatch changed its policy in May, now requiring law enforcement agents to identify themselves before accessing the database and use data only from users who have previously agreed so, many police investigators were frustrated and disappointed.

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Experts' opinions: DNA policy experts noted that they will monitor people's reactions to the warrant, and see whether authorities will go after larger genetic databases.

“I have no question in my mind that if the public isn’t outraged by this, they will go to the mother lode: the 15-million-person Ancestry database,” Murphy said. “Why play in the peanuts when you can go to the big show?”

“They won’t stop here,” said Yaniv Erlich, the chief science officer at MyHeritage.

Currently, both Ancestry.com and 23andMe are strict when it comes to sharing database information with law enforcement agents, for fear of losing trust in costumers. Christine Pai, a 23andMe spokeswoman, said via email, "We never share customer data with law enforcement unless we receive a legally valid request such as a search warrant or written court order. Upon receipt of an inquiry from law enforcement, we use all practical legal measures to challenge such requests in order to protect our customers’ privacy.”

Detective Fields added that he welcomes access to other data sites such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com, claiming that we "would see hundreds and hundreds of unsolved crimes solved overnight.”

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