Genealogists have been using genealogy website GEDmatch to analyze their DNA, find genetic cousins, and identify shared segments of DNA with other test takers. But lately, the site has been making headlines for another reason: its cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
GEDmatch unwittingly began the affiliation in April 2018, when authorities used its free database to find the Golden State Killer. And since then, GEDmatch has embraced its new role as a tool for identifying criminals, ostensibly sealing its relationship with law enforcement in a December 2019 partnership with Verogen, a forensic DNA testing company.
It’s anyone’s guess what the acquisition means for the future of GEDmatch. But in the time since GEDmatch began cooperating with law enforcement, users have had a few opportunities to take use of their data into their own hands. And now, they have a choice to make about how they want GEDmatch to use their data—if they want GEDmatch to use their data at all:
Option One: Delete Your Data
When you first heard about GEDmatch’s policy on opening its database to law enforcement in 2018, you had the chance to delete your data. You had that same opportunity in early 2019, when GEDmatch was used in a case of assault that technically fell outside the stated allowed use of its database for law enforcement. At either point, you had the opportunity to withdraw your data from the site, or continue to allow it.
In fact, you always have that choice. After all, once your DNA is deleted from a database, it is gone gone. Likewise, you’ve always had the opportunity to remain in the database, upload the DNA of family members, and encourage others to do the same.
Option Two: Remain Opted Out of Law Enforcement Usage
In May 2019, GEDmatch changed its policy regarding law enforcement. At the time, everyone in GEDmatch was opted out of law enforcement searches. With a keystroke, GEDmatch took the size of its database of nearly 3 million kits available to law enforcement down to zero.
Passionate members of the genealogy community waged an aggressive “opt in” campaign to try to build that database back up to a useful level. And this was another opportunity to take control of your own data, as you had to manually opt back in to allow law enforcement to access your data for matching.
This decision (or indecision, if you haven’t ever opted-in) still stands with the acquisition. If you did not opt-in, Verogen will not have access to your data for law enforcement purposes. In a press release, Verogen CEO Brett Williams said, “Our users have the absolute right to choose whether they want to share their information with law enforcement by opting in.”
Option Three: Opt In
If you’re comfortable with your information being used by law enforcement, you can log in and opt in.
Note, though you have to accept GEDmatch’s new terms and conditions in order to log in and use the site, agreeing to these terms does not opt you in to law enforcement searching. The two are entirely separate. Agreeing just gives you access to the site as you once had.
Regardless of your decision, this latest news from GEDmatch highlights the importance of communicating these changes to your friends and family who have uploaded to the site. Make sure that they have an opportunity to actively manage their own DNA.
The acquisition is also a reminder that all companies have the right to take their business in the direction they see fit. So read all of the Terms and Conditions to determine how it relates to your genetic data.
Last updated, January 2020