The Utah Cold Case Coalition is urging people to voluntarily submit their DNA to a database readily accessible to law enforcement, but the ACLU of Utah is advising caution.
Inspired by a pair of high-profile cases solved with DNA submitted to a genealogy site — including the arrest of the Golden State Killer — the Coalition is asking Utahns to submit their DNA to GedMatch.com (go to genesis.GedMatch.com), which will share the information without requiring law enforcement to get a warrant. (Sites like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, FTDNA and MyHeritage do require warrants.)
“We have a very detailed list of all of the unsolved murders, disappearances and unidentified remains in Utah, and we realized that with a fair number of those, there is potentially DNA available,” said Coalition co-founder Karra Porter, a Salt Lake City attorney. “We just need more people to compare it to.”
The group suggests that Utahns upload their genetic profile to the open-source DNA-sharing website, which can be done at no cost. Police in California used the site to find a genetic match to a profile they’d created from DNA left at crime scenes attributed to the Golden State Killer. This narrowed their focus and led them to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with a dozen murders and more than 45 rapes between 1974 and 1986.
More recently, there was an arrest in a double murder in 1987 in British Columbia when GedMatch produced a link to second cousins of the suspect.
But the American Civil Liberties Union is advising caution when it comes to sharing DNA with GedMatch.
“In submitting our DNA for testing, we give away data that exposes not only our own physical- and mental-health characteristics but also those of our parents, our grandparents and, as in DeAngelo’s case, our third cousins — not to mention relatives who haven’t been born yet,” the ACLU posted on its website.
By uploading a detailed genetic profile to a public website, authorities likely violated the alleged perpetrator’s privacy rights, the ACLU said.
“People may not be so troubled by such an intrusion when it comes to a serial killer, but imagine the implications of using this technique for shoplifters or trespassers.”
Porter, who said she has shared her DNA on the site, acknowledged that it is a “matter of personal preference.”
“I lead a very boring life, and I am not worried in the slightest about my DNA being in a database for law enforcement to compare,” she said. “If I have a second cousin who murdered teenagers, I want to help in any way I can.”
The UCCC is a nonprofit that lobbied for SB160, which passed both the Utah house and senate unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, Nicknamed “Rosie’s Bill” after Rosie Tapia, a 6-year-old who was kidnapped from her family’s Salt Lake home and murdered 22 years ago, it requires the establishment of a statewide, centralized cold-case database.
And the hope is that a DNA match on GedMatch will allow police to identify Tapia’s killer.
“If you don’t care [about sharing DNA] and you want to help bring closure to these families, this is one way to do it,” Porter said.