Using DNA Websites for Cold Cases is a Slippery Slope, Civil Rights Advocates Say

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SACRAMENTO -- Using genetic websites to solve cold cases is a new technique investigators in the East Area Rapist case will certainly be trailblazing, but it's a strategy many civil rights advocates say is a slippery slope.

"We ended up generating a DNA profile from the Golden State Killer evidence. And then we were able to take that profile and upload it into an open source public genealogy database called GEDmatch," retired Contra Costa County investigator Paul Holes said.

But to some, finding a suspected serial killer's relatives through genealogy websites raises all kinds of ethical questions.

"From what I understand they did not issue a warrant to this genealogy company, they just did one as if they were matching it," attorney Jeff Kravitz said.

It's a legal grey area, Kravitz says.

"Right now, there are no protections," he told FOX40. "The problem is the expectation of privacy disappears when you're openly giving it to people."

Kravitz also warns that DNA is not always the silver bullet in a case.

In fact, the Associated Press reports investigators initially misidentified an elderly man in Oregon as a possible suspect in the East Area Rapist investigation in 2017.

A judge in Clackamas County ordered the 73-year-old to give a DNA sample because he shared a rare genetic marker with the killer.

"Are the police now obligated who they matched it with originally, because it wasn't him, it was a relative of his," Kravitz said.

Kravitz says whoever that relative is may have had their civil rights violated.

"They could say: I put my data up there for the purpose of me finding people I'm related to," Kravitz said. "I didn't put it up there for the government to look at and find out everything about me."

The CEO of GEDmatch told the Associated Press that he did not know detectives were using the site in their investigation, and that his company does not hand out DNA.

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