CITIZEN VOICES® Limits on law enforcement use of genealogy websites?

Jun 27, 2018

This year law enforcement identified serial killers from New Hampshire and California after investigators uploaded DNA evidence to genealogy websites. Those websites showed possible distant relatives; officers used that information to construct family trees and identify individuals who met the suspect profile in terms of age, location, etc. Some privacy advocates are concerned this practice violates the rights of website users who never intended their private genetic information be used to place relatives under investigation.

Read more about issues related to law enforcement surveillance in New Hampshire

“Should NH pass a law limiting how law enforcement can use genetic information from genealogy websites?”

Discussion held on Citizens Count website and Facebook page June 14, 2018

115 citizens responded53 citizens were in favor of limiting law enforcement use of genealogy websites26 citizens were opposed to limiting law enforcement use of genealogy websites36 citizens commented on related questions or issues

What Participants Said

Yes: 53 citizens were in favor of limiting how law enforcement can use genetic information from genealogy websites.

  • “These sites will be abused by law enforcement and insurance companies.  You need to pass strong privacy laws that apply to everyone.”
  • “What they're doing is a violation, not only of privacy, but of the Fourth Amendment and should not be allowed.”
  • “The idea of police using dna they've collected from people to snoop around family trees is just plain creepy, could end up with the police at your door for someone you've never even met.”

No: 26 citizens were opposed to limiting how law enforcement can use genetic information from genealogy websites.

  • “Law enforcement should be able to use DNA material to solve homicides. It protects us all.”
  • “DNA evidence is used for crimes such as murder, rapes, assaults... I am all for finding these people. If they put their info on a website they give up that privacy, just like posting on facebook.”
  • “No… The whole point of you doing a DNA match is to find your relatives… It’s mostly a public forum… You know it going in.”

Other: 35 citizens addressed their comments to related questions and issues.
These included:

  • Uncertainty: “I have mixed feelings. My gut says keep your hands off my info, but I also feel like if my DNA could help locate a serial killer or child predator then part of me wants to say go for it.”
  • Warrants: “I expect a warrant for this kind of search would have been easy to get, considering the crimes being investigated.”
  • Privacy concerns: “People need to be smart and not submit their dna....period.”

*Editor selection of actual participant quotes.

Read the full Facebook discussion of this question

Click here for details on our methodology


Ellen Nunes
- Hampton

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 6:16pm

I agree law enforcement needs to abide by all existing 4th amendment protections. When used by someone who has only the same access and permissions as the average consumer, family trees and DNA databases are investigative resources not unlike all others in existence. DNA has helped convict the guilty and free the innocent. Of course, any leads discovered via a consumer genealogical site should be subject to all normal standards of evidence and verification.

Mike Dunbar
- Hampton

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 2:23pm

As an aside: I distrust the whole notion of a genetic database, and have no desire to contribute to one. We are all far too quick to give away our most personal information.

Jackie Benson
- Kensington

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 7:47am

Law enforcement officials shouldn't be able to use digital platforms to shortcut the Fourth Amendment. If they are trying to access private, personal information while in the process of investigating a crime, they should have to acquire a warrant. Users who submit their data to a genealogy website do so for the purposes of learning about their own ancestry and finding relatives. Their use of the platform should not imply that they consent to having their DNA used for law enforcement purposes, any more than the use of a cell phone should imply consent to having police eavesdrop on your calls.

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