For example, GEDmatch allows users to find profiles that match only one particular segment of DNA.
It also lets users who have tested with different services match with each other without shelling out for another one.
This way of finding people by DNA is new to law enforcement, but it is not new to genealogists, who immediately recognized their methods in the police’s vague descriptions. It at once demonstrates the power of genetic genealogy research and exposes the many ethical and privacy issues: Did any of De Angelo’s distant relatives know their DNA could be searched by law enforcement?
Will people want to upload their DNA to genealogy websites if it could one day incriminate their children—or their children’s children’s children?
GEDmatch is an example of the openness in the genealogy community, says Ce Ce Moore, a genetic genealogist.
But customers can themselves choose to export the raw data file from these and other DNA-testing services to a third-party site, such as GEDmatch.
These third-party sites are less user friendly than the websites of 23and Me or Ancestry DNA, but they offer a more powerful suite of tools.
“The police officer’s ability to throw some information into a public database like this is wholly unregulated,” says Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University Law School.
In 2014, a genealogical database search led police working a cold case to man in New Orleans, who turned out to be innocent.
“We have amazing citizen scientists who have built tools the companies have not been able or willing to provide,” she says.