New owner of consumer DNA database vows to protect users from police search warrants

New owner of consumer DNA database vows to protect users from police search warrants

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The new owner of consumer DNA database 'GEDmatch' promised to protect the DNA profiles of users who don't want police to search them.

Verogen, a DNA analysis company, announced it had purchased GEDmatch, a website founded for amateur genealogists that can be used by police to solve old murders and rapes. The new owner will continue to offer the site for searches by law enforcement that adhere to its new terms of service, Verogen CEO Brett Williams said Tuesday.

"But if police try to get a court order bypassing those terms, seeking access to the DNA profiles of people who have requested that they remain off-limits, Verogen will fight it," he said. "For me, it's about trust. If people are going to agree with the terms of service, and then those terms are violated, there is no trust there."

The site's founder, Curtis Rogers, who did not fight a June search warrant from police in Orlando, Florida, said GEDmatch had limited their access to users' data in the middle of an investigation of a series of rapes. The warrant has raised concerns that police could use the same tactic to search other consumer DNA sites.

"I would have fought the warrant," Williams said in an interview. "How we respond will speak volumes to the users of GEDmatch."

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Rogers founded GEDmatch in Florida nine years ago for people to compare the results of their DNA tests in hopes of finding relatives. However, in April 2018, California authorities revealed they'd used clues from GEDmatch to lead them to the suspected Golden State Killer. The case made GEDmatch the center of a groundbreaking forensics method called investigative genetic genealogy, in which police obtain a DNA profile from evidence taken from a crime scene and upload it to GEDmatch, NBC News reports. The technique has since helped solve more than 70 rapes and murders across the country, authorities say.

Rogers was criticized for allowing police to use the site for purposes that his users didn't agree to. In May, he changed the site's terms of service, drastically restricting the number of profiles available to law enforcement. “We are here for genealogists, not for law enforcement,” he said earlier this year. “On the other hand, law enforcement is here to stay. I feel a big obligation to make sure it’s used properly.”

Williams said Verogen would work to improve the site's security after researchers at the University of Washington found GEDmatch was vulnerable to attacks. In a letter to users, Rogers said Verogen could run GEDmatch better. He said he would remain involved "in all aspects of the business."

"Of course, I am hoping to have a little more time to pursue passions I haven’t been able to indulge in for years, including working on my own genealogy."

Only one other company, FamilyTreeDNA, allows law enforcement to search its database. Another, DNA Solves, was recently created to collect profiles for law enforcement to search.

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