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DNA Testing and the Law

Every month I attend a community meeting where various guest speakers come to talk about issues of local concern.

This week our Sheriff spoke about county law enforcement issues. One topic caught my attention. He mentioned using DNA to solve long-unsolved homicides. His cold case unit has gone beyond matching crime scene DNA with a suspect identified through normal police work.

This month his department solved a 1980 homicide by tracking and identifying a suspect solely through DNA testing. They analyzed DNA taken from the crime scene and uploaded it into a genealogy database. They looked for matches and identified a suspect.

The department tracked the man, who now uses an alias, to Florida. Law enforcement there put him under surveillance, followed him to a local bar, and took the glass he used. DNA testing on the glass matched that taken in the case by investigators in 1980. The suspect was arrested and extradited to Colorado.

Although it is wonderful to see this man being brought to justice at long last, I am not sure I like the idea of using genealogy databases for law enforcement purposes.

Much discussion has taken place around this debate in recent months, and I will not repeat it here. I just know that I do not want my DNA being used to entrap my relatives.

At the only company where I have taken a DNA test, FamilyTreeDNA, I have opted not to have my DNA used this way. I made the same selection for the other kits that I manage at this company.

I provided our DNA to the testing companies to further our family history, not to take part in police sting operations. I hope the testing companies continue to give us the option to opt out of law enforcement requests for match information.

It is too late to take my DNA sample back from them. I must hope they will continue to use it in the spirit for which it was given, for genealogy only. If the authorities want a DNA database, they could create one themselves using samples from willing participants. Leave me out of it.

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