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posted by martyb on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the piecing-it-together dept.

Police submitted a DNA sample under a fake name to GEDmatch, an online DNA-matching/genealogy service, in order to capture a man they suspect to be the "Golden State Killer". Science Magazine interviewed Yaniv Erlich, who warned back in 2014 that GEDmatch could be used for law enforcement purposes:

A chat with the geneticist who predicted how the police may have tracked down the Golden State Killer

Yaniv Erlich, a geneticist at Columbia University in New York City, was far from surprised at the news last week that police may have found a serial murderer and rapist, California's long-sought Golden State Killer, by tapping a public DNA database to match crime scene DNA: Erlich had cautioned in a June 2014 article [open, DOI: 10.1038/nrg3723] [DX] about genetic privacy, published in Nature Reviews Genetics, that GEDmatch, the website that was reportedly used, could allow for such "genealogical triangulation." On GEDmatch, people voluntarily supply their own DNA sequences that they obtain through consumer sequencing companies—like MyHeritage, where Erlich serves as chief science officer--and provide e-mail addresses, which allows presumed relatives to contact each other. In this case, the investigators fished the database with a DNA sequence obtained from a frozen, 37-year-old rape kit used in a murder case attributed to the Golden State Killer.

Police have not yet revealed precise details about how GEDmatch, or other such sites, were used, but Erlich, who was not involved with cracking this decades-old case, spoke with Science about how the suspect's DNA sequence likely led to his arrest and related privacy issues. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. How do you think police narrowed down the many matches they found on GEDmatch?

A: I would be surprised if it was more distant than a second cousin--probably a first cousin because with a second you have too many people. Then they had three choices: no cooperation, just figure out the family tree; contact the relative and make up a story like, "I'm an adoptee and saw you on GEDmatch"; or explain, "We're the police and you're not a suspect but you can help us because of your DNA." Probably the safest thing is to come up with a story and say, "Oh, thank god I found you, let's meet." When they meet, police come as a team and say we're investigating this type of thing, please walk us through your family tree. It's not very nice to say no. Then if you have 20 people on the tree, it's quite trivial to go for the one person you're looking for who is quite old, male, lives in California, and who, some of the victims said, had light colored eyes.

[...] Q. There's a lot of concern about privacy being compromised here, but people voluntarily put their data into GEDmatch.

A: It's not like people fully understand the consequences of putting their DNA into a public database. They think, "So many people use the website, so it's ok." Or: "Oh, it's a website for genealogy." What if it was called Police Genealogy? People wouldn't do it. We don't think about everything. We think about the most likely thing.

An earlier search led to the wrong man, because a Y chromosome database was searched, turning up a poor match. GEDmatch allows for autosomal matching (the paper also noted Mitosearch.org, which includes mitochondrial data).

Also at STAT News.


Original Submission

Related Stories

DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect 47 comments

The Orange County Register reports:

[...] one of California's most prolific serial killers and rapists was caught by using online genealogical sites to find a DNA match, prosecutors said Thursday. Investigators compared the DNA collected from a crime scene of the Golden State Killer to online genetic profiles and found a match: a relative of the man police have identified as [the suspect, who was arrested.]

[...] Authorities didn't give the name of the site, one of many, like Ancestry and 23andMe, that allow people to send in their DNA and find long-lost relatives. [...] Contacted Friday, representatives of both Ancestry and 23andMe.com said the sites weren't involved in the case.

DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest 19 comments

https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/06/02/us/golden-state-killer-unsealed-warrants/index.html

When the suspected Golden State Killer drove into a Hobby Lobby parking lot in April, investigators were waiting nearby. As he walked into the craft store, it gave them a perfect chance to collect a secret DNA sample.

Police swabbed the driver's side handle of [the suspect's] car, according to arrest and search warrants released Friday.

Authorities sent it for testing and matched it to semen recovered at some of the Golden State Killer's crime scenes, the arrest warrant said.

[...] The stop at the Hobby Lobby was just one of several ways investigators used to zero in on a suspect. Earlier this year, police tracked him down by comparing genetic profiles from genealogy websites to crime scene DNA, according to investigators.

On April 23, a day before his arrest, police say they collected multiple samples from a trash can outside DeAngelo's home in Citrus Heights, a town 16 miles northeast of Sacramento. They had watched the home for three days, the warrant said.

Previously: DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"


Original Submission

'Martyr of the A10': DNA Leads to France Arrests Over 1987 Murder 13 comments

Submitted via IRC for Runaway1956

'Martyr of the A10': DNA leads to France arrests over 1987 murder

French police have arrested a couple 31 years after their daughter was found dead, in a cold case revived through DNA evidence. The mutilated body of the child, named by police as Inass, was found by a motorway in central France in 1987. The parents were traced after the DNA of their son, tested in an unrelated case, was matched with that of the girl, French media report.

[...] In 2008, her DNA was formally identified, and the related information registered in a national genetic prints database. However no identification was made at that stage. The case was reopened in 2012 when a call for witnesses was released with a picture of the dead girl's face and the caption: "Who is she?"

The apparent breakthrough in the case happened when a man was arrested over a violent incident in 2016. His DNA reportedly identified him as the victim's brother. Months of investigation then led police to the parents.

Related: DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest
Another Alleged Murderer Shaken Out of the Family Tree


Original Submission

DNA Methylation Can Reveal Information About Criminal Suspects 6 comments

Crime scene DNA could be used to reveal a suspect's age—and whether they have cancer

A drop of blood left by a suspect at a crime scene is a treasure trove for forensic scientists. Genetic information extracted from such biological samples can be compared against DNA databases to see whether a sample's DNA sequence is a match for any known offenders, for example. To protect individuals' privacy, these analyses, known as DNA fingerprinting, are normally restricted to parts of the genome not involved in creating proteins. But in some countries, investigators hoping to narrow down their pool of suspects are allowed to identify certain protein-coding sequences that can help predict skin or eye color. And soon, scientists may be able to find out even more from an offender's DNA—including their age.

A new forensic approach analyzes the chemical tags attached to DNA, rather than genetic sequences themselves. These molecules, which can switch genes on and off, get added onto DNA throughout our life span in a process called DNA methylation. And because the patterns of DNA methylation change as we age, they could provide a good indication of how old a suspect is.

But this technique could inadvertently reveal a lot more about a suspect's health and lifestyle [DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2018.03.006] [DX], raising tricky legal and ethical questions that may demand new privacy safeguards, scientists suggest in a commentary in the July issue of Trends in Genetics.

A brief interview with two of the authors is included in TFA.

Related: Better DNA Hair Analysis for Catching Criminals
Creating Wanted Posters from DNA Samples
The Problems With DNA Evidence
Study Predicts Appearance From Genome Sequence Data
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest


Original Submission

Indiana Murder Suspect Found by Using Genealogical Website 44 comments

Murder suspect due in U.S. court after DNA cracks open 1988 case

A 59-year-old Indiana man will be formally charged on Thursday with the 1988 murder of an eight-year-old girl after the decades-old cold case was cracked open by DNA evidence linked to a genealogical website, authorities said on Tuesday.

John Miller of Grabill, Indiana, was arrested in nearby Fort Wayne on Sunday after DNA evidence and records on publicly accessible genealogical websites helped investigators track him down. Investigators followed a pattern similar to that used to track down the "Golden State Killer" in California earlier this year.

Miller on Monday was preliminarily charged with murder, child molestation and confinement of someone under 14 years old, 30 years after eight-year-old April Tinsley was found dead in a ditch. He has been ordered held without bond.

If you don't hand over your DNA, you want child murderers to frolic in freedom.

Related: DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest
Another Alleged Murderer Shaken Out of the Family Tree
'Martyr of the A10': DNA Leads to France Arrests Over 1987 Murder
DNA Methylation Can Reveal Information About Criminal Suspects


Original Submission

Public Ancestry Data Can be Used to Narrow Down the Identity Behind an Anonymous DNA Sample 22 comments

We will find you: DNA search used to nab Golden State Killer can home in on about 60% of white Americans

If you're white, live in the United States, and a distant relative has uploaded their DNA to a public ancestry database, there's a good chance an internet sleuth can identify you from a DNA sample you left somewhere. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that by combining an anonymous DNA sample with some basic information such as someone's rough age, researchers could narrow that person's identity to fewer than 20 people by starting with a DNA database of 1.3 million individuals.

Such a search could potentially allow the identification of about 60% of white Americans from a DNA sample—even if they have never provided their own DNA to an ancestry database. "In a few years, it's really going to be everyone," says study leader Yaniv Erlich, a computational geneticist at Columbia University.

The study was sparked by the April arrest of the alleged "Golden State Killer," a California man accused of a series of decades-old rapes and murders. To find him—and more than a dozen other criminal suspects since then—law enforcement agencies first test a crime scene DNA sample, which could be old blood, hair, or semen, for hundreds of thousands of DNA markers—signposts along the genome that vary among people, but whose identity in many cases are shared with blood relatives. They then upload the DNA data to GEDmatch, a free online database where anyone can share their data from consumer DNA testing companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to search for relatives who have submitted their DNA. Searching GEDMatch's nearly 1 million profiles revealed several relatives who were the equivalent to third cousins to the crime scene DNA linked to the Golden State Killer. Other information such as genealogical records, approximate age, and crime locations then allowed the sleuths to home in on a single person.

Even if you can convince your entire immediate family to not use these services, you could still be vulnerable. And the success rate is likely to climb over time for all racial groups. Maybe the tests could be subsidized to get more of the population to give up the goods.

Also at LA Times

Related: DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest
Another Alleged Murderer Shaken Out of the Family Tree
'Martyr of the A10': DNA Leads to France Arrests Over 1987 Murder
Indiana Murder Suspect Found by Using Genealogical Website


Original Submission

Politics: DNA Databases in the U.S. and China are Tools of Racial Oppression 166 comments

DNA Databases in the U.S. and China Are Tools of Racial Oppression

Two major world powers, the United States and China, have both collected an enormous number of DNA samples from their citizens, the premise being that these samples will help solve crimes that might have otherwise gone unsolved. While DNA evidence can often be crucial when it comes to determining who committed a crime, researchers argue these DNA databases also pose a major threat to human rights.

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a DNA database called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) that currently contains over 14 million DNA profiles. This database has a disproportionately high number of profiles of black men, because black Americans are arrested five times as much as white Americans. You don't even have to be convicted of a crime for law enforcement to take and store your DNA; you simply have to have been arrested as a suspect.

[...] As for China, a report that was published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in mid-June claims that China is operating the "world's largest police-run DNA database" as part of its powerful surveillance state. Chinese authorities have collected DNA samples from possibly as many as 70 million men since 2017, and the total database is believed to contain as many as 140 million profiles. The country hopes to collect DNA from all of its male citizens, as it argues men are most likely to commit crimes.

DNA is reportedly often collected during what are represented as free physicals, and it's also being collected from children at schools. There are reports of Chinese citizens being threatened with punishment by government officials if they refuse to give a DNA sample. Much of the DNA that's been collected has been from Uighur Muslims that have been oppressed by the Chinese government and infamously forced into concentration camps in the Xinjiang province.

Related:


Original Submission

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  • (Score: -1, Spam) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:39AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:39AM (#674509)

    Dim and eerie. That was the only way to describe the room that this man, Huckerson, was standing in. The man appeared to have a fulfilled expression on his face, as though he was in a state of ecstasy. Why did the man seem so satisfied? One could find out by observing the room in which he stood.

    Garbage. There was garbage everywhere. The garbage had yet to begin truly rotting, but it was still garbage all the same. What happened here? The previous residents of the house - a mother and her two children - would know why the house was in such disarray. Or, at least, they would if they weren't lifeless corpses. You see, the man had been feeling playful, and so he violated them until they were used-up and silent. That was the true reason for this man's satisfaction.

    Huckerson yawned lazily and then sighed. He would have to clean up this mess. It sure was tough being a man. When would the oppression of men finally end?

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by looorg on Wednesday May 02 2018, @12:42PM (1 child)

    by looorg (578) on Wednesday May 02 2018, @12:42PM (#674540)

    Interesting parts here might be if the company behind GEDmatch takes issues with it, using fake profiles for purposes not intended with their service. On the other hand it might be hard to argue with finding a serial killer for PR reasons. But perhaps one shouldn't expect much in terms of a lawsuit, they are incorporated in Florida and they use a gmail address as their primary contact point. Their mail address is to a home and not an office. It seems to be a small time operation, I do wonder what their users numbers are like.

    But it could be interesting to see what this does to their user numbers, will they drop like a stone or? Considering they are not the only such service will this also finally open the eyes of the user base for all these data they give away that could be used to things not intended; coming just right on the heels of Facebook and CA and ...

    https://www.gedmatch.com/policy.php [gedmatch.com]

    I wonder how many users actually read the policy page. There is some interesting things there. There have been no revisions tho, it seems, after the news so the owner(s) of the site might not be to upset.

    GEDmatch provides DNA and genealogical analysis tools for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists. Most tools are free, but we do provide some premium tools for users who wish to help support us with contributions. You will need to upload DNA and / or genealogical (GEDCOM) data to make use of the tools here.

    I guess the police could be considered professional researchers.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @05:02PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @05:02PM (#674659)

      I too would submit using fake profile. If everyone else does this, service is useless.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @12:47PM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @12:47PM (#674541)

    Has anyone here voluntarily supplied their own DNA sequences to a genealogy service? Followup q's - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How (and how much did it cost, any payback?)

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Wednesday May 02 2018, @01:56PM

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Wednesday May 02 2018, @01:56PM (#674558)

      I don't want to share anything more valuable than throwaway email addresses with big data companies. Why in the world would I provide something so personal and with such dire invasive potential as my DNA? Whoever does it is truly and utterly reckless...

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @03:36PM (4 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @03:36PM (#674608)

      I haven't even been to a doctor in 15+ years. Adding on all the skeezy shit they are doing both with DNA and claiming that any tissue/blood samples are medical waste and can be reused/sequenced (part of the HeLa fallout) means that you can't trust, especially today, that anything you are providing for medical analysis will actually be kept confidential to medical analysis and all they need to do is 'switch it on' in the labs and they have access to as much genetic material as they want every time you do a routine physical or need actual medical care.

      Our bodies aren't our own, our personal information is not our own, our communications are not our own, our assets are not our own (forfeiture and eminent domain), our government is not our own. What is left for us here in America?

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday May 02 2018, @03:39PM (2 children)

        by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday May 02 2018, @03:39PM (#674609) Journal

        What is left for us here in America?

        Bread crusts fished out of the dumpster and Kardashian Instagram updates on your Apple Watch.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @04:22PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @04:22PM (#674631)

        > I haven't even been to a doctor in 15+ years.

        Same here, but recently an old mole started to change...so I made a first appointment with a dermatologist. With any luck they will burn/freeze things off and there won't be any "medical waste". If they cut anything off I'm going to ask how my tissues will be used (and try to prevent DNA sequencing).

  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @02:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @02:21PM (#674571)

    "Sorry, no passport for you. Our vendor tells us your real identity is 'Porky Pig'."

  • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @08:05PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @08:05PM (#674732)

    If I had a blood relative who's a serial killer, and he was caught because I submitted DNA to a genealogy company, it wouldn't bother me. The same goes for any other violent crime.

    I've heard of DNA evidence being misrepresented in court, but that's a bigger issue with expert testimony and standards of "reasonable doubt". Most people seem to think 95 % confidence is good enough to be beyond reasonable doubt. That is a laughably low standard, unless you are ok with thousands of people being falsely convicted every year.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @08:44PM (7 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @08:44PM (#674754)

      Welcome to foot in the door.

      Now imagine having your Health Insurance revoked or denied because your brother/sister/parent submitted DNA proving your family carries a gene that causes increased chance of cancer. Slippery-slop? All slopes are slippery my friend.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:19PM (6 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:19PM (#674766)

        Yes, let's ban all slopes then.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:27PM (5 children)

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday May 02 2018, @09:27PM (#674770) Journal

          It's better for some murderers to die free, unpunished, than to let our DNA fall into the hands of law enforcement.

          DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show [nytimes.com]

          If you thought having your social security number or SF-86 form [wikipedia.org] hanging out in the wild was bad, just wait until your genomic data is out there.

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          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @10:02PM (4 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02 2018, @10:02PM (#674792)

            Meh, cops planting evidence is hardly a new thing. That they could do it with DNA is scientifically interesting, but hardly a reason to ignore all DNA evidence. You just have to include that possibility in your Bayesian priors.

            It's better for some murderers to die free, unpunished, than to let our DNA fall into the hands of law enforcement.

            Can't say I agree with that. If we are inventing new morals for new technology, they might as well be aligned to the facts of life. We shed DNA all the time, and cops are going pick up those crumbs.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Wednesday May 02 2018, @10:31PM (2 children)

              by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday May 02 2018, @10:31PM (#674800) Journal

              Dirty cops, or anybody with the right tools (which will decline in cost) who can get a hold of your digital genomic sequence. And once your genome is outed, you're essentially compromised forever.

              We shed DNA all the time, and cops are going pick up those crumbs.

              There are a lot of bits of DNA all over the place, but without a database of identified individuals to compare them to, they aren't worth as much. Although they could determine gender and a rough approximation of appearance [nytimes.com] from a DNA sample.

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              • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03 2018, @04:11AM (1 child)

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03 2018, @04:11AM (#674926)

                Taking a longer term view, maybe this is how humanity keeps evolving. If your DNA has problems, you have to pay a bit more for insurance, and potential mates will think twice. It's better than eugenics, and people can use gene therapy to fix things up, and take steps to improve the DNA of their offspring. Not that that's ideal, but the current situation with no evolutionary pressure might not be sustainable.

                • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 03 2018, @04:35AM

                  by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Thursday May 03 2018, @04:35AM (#674938) Journal

                  I agree. Natural selection is largely on the way out since people who would have been picked off by the wolves in centuries past can instead live full, productive lives, and produce offspring. So unwanted mutations may be spreading throughout the population. Some of these have been caught by genetic screening, but some jurisdictions are moving to restrict abortion in these cases [soylentnews.org].

                  Our understanding of the human genome is improving over time, and the cost of sequencing is falling. That means that insurance companies will have an incredible motive to get as much genetic data from users as possible, in order to kick high-risk individuals out of the pool or raise rates for them. All of the insured may even get a discount if they volunteer their genome.

                  Mates: see Dor Yeshorim [wikipedia.org]. An organization ahead of its time because the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews marry within their communities and have higher rates of genetic disease. But you'll see the approach spread as sequencing costs drop to a one-time fee of $100 to $1,000 and Silicon Valley companies scramble to collect and analyze such data and provide services.

                  Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is a low-tech way of getting what you want in an offspring, and won't work in all cases. Gene therapy, or even an embryo built from scratch, could allow any two people to have an offspring, with almost all issues eliminated (new mutations can still happen as the cells divide).

                  It also opens up possibilities of designer babies. It's likely that the rich will have an advantage here because they will be able to afford the technology, or go to countries where it is not banned if the U.S. and others try to take a moral stand against it. You can bet somebody out there is working on identifying the many genes associated with beauty, and simulating what appearance a genome will result in. You can have your baby rendered while it is still a digital sequence.

                  Make sure to check out this article: https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=18/05/02/2019246 [soylentnews.org]

                  I haven't seen any indication that Josiah Zayner has gotten the muscle growth he desired. Editing at the embryonic level is how to make sure your edits have full impact. But if gene therapy for adults can produce some results, I'm sure we will see it in competitive sports very soon.

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            • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday May 02 2018, @11:45PM

              by frojack (1554) on Wednesday May 02 2018, @11:45PM (#674830) Journal

              That they could do it with DNA is scientifically interesting, but hardly a reason to ignore all DNA evidence.

              The thing is, if you give them DNA they don't need to use any elaborate science tricks to fabricate your dna.
              They just plant what you gave them - and your goose is cooked.

              Perhaps we need another agency to manage things that the cops can't be trusted with.
              They will get over being distrusted. Most of them are already embracing body cams, because cams exonerates cops more than they incriminate them.

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