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posted by chromas on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the keep-your-base-pairs-to-yourself dept.

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


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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:48AM (13 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:48AM (#748210)

    Maybe the tests could be subsidized to get more of the population to give up the goods.

    Here's one area where law enforcement is (perhaps temporarily) tougher on white folks - and, really, more than race, it's about having close and even semi-distant blood relations who have pretty serious disposable income to blow on something like 23 and me - which, by the numbers these days, is mostly white folks.

    The real problem comes when the technology gets stretched past its limits, like convicting someone on a single partial fingerprint match or finding a single hair at the crime scene which actually got there without the defendant being at the scene.

    I recall one "mass murderer" who turned out to be an employee at the test swab manufacturer or some-such.

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  • (Score: 2) by Bot on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:50AM

    by Bot (3902) on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:50AM (#748211) Journal

    > I recall one "mass murderer" who turned out to be an employee at the test swab manufacturer
    The perfect cover.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday October 13 2018, @08:16AM (6 children)

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Saturday October 13 2018, @08:16AM (#748216) Journal

    The figure is 60% for Americans with European ancestry, and 40% for "someone of sub-Saharan African ancestry in the MyHeritage database". That is not a huge difference, and we'll probably find all of these numbers converging at 99% eventually. Maybe your best hope at evading detection will be errors that propagate from database to database, such as misspelled names, mismatched DNA, or incorrect family trees.

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    • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @10:41AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @10:41AM (#748261)

      Maybe your best hope at evading detection will be errors that propagate from database to database, such as misspelled names, mismatched DNA, or incorrect family trees.

      That may be your best hope, but I'm not leaving it to chance. I've submitted someone else's DNA to 23andme as my own, and shared it with ged match. My family isn't into that shit (neither am I), so I'm not worried about being the wrong monkey in the family tree (I'll blame 23 if that ever happens). But I certainly don't trust law enforcement or the government when it comes to these things.

      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday October 13 2018, @04:18PM (1 child)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday October 13 2018, @04:18PM (#748335)

        Better hope you've got an alibi when your false DNA print goes out and does something you wouldn't.

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        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @05:42PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @05:42PM (#748352)

          No worries there, mate. If it ever comes down to that I'll give them ... a DNA sample.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14 2018, @10:39AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14 2018, @10:39AM (#748550)

      They love collecting DOB around here for everything. Sign up to an ISP? DOB! Driver's licence! Connect electricity? DOB! Licence! Now! or don't be connected!
      Sadly, they really don't have a way to verify this. The upshot is that I now exist as several different people. I don't move my utilities to a new place I disconnect and make a new account. Easy.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14 2018, @05:00PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 14 2018, @05:00PM (#748660)

      What societal benefit is there for murderers to evade detection? Why would we want this?

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by acid andy on Saturday October 13 2018, @09:07AM (3 children)

    by acid andy (1683) on Saturday October 13 2018, @09:07AM (#748234) Homepage Journal

    The real problem comes when the technology gets stretched past its limits, like convicting someone on a single partial fingerprint match or finding a single hair at the crime scene which actually got there without the defendant being at the scene.

    Yup that's the scariest part. Oh, that magic DNA stuff, well that alone is proof beyond all reasonable doubt, right? Circumstantial evidence is not proof. Tech like this will make it too easy for them to always find someone to pin the blame on.

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    • (Score: 2) by choose another one on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:30PM (1 child)

      by choose another one (515) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:30PM (#748318)

      Oh, that magic DNA stuff, well that alone is proof beyond all reasonable doubt, right?

      Always amused me the "1 in X million" stuff that is said in court about DNA, where X million is a lot less than the population, surely somewhere some defence lawyer must have thrown that back with something like "so you are saying there are 30 matches in this country and 600 worldwide, why are those suspects not in the dock?".

      Circumstantial evidence is not proof. Tech like this will make it too easy for them to always find someone to pin the blame on.

      Best tactic for the criminal is making sure they have plenty of someones. People shed DNA all the time, hair, dead skin cells, etc. If it's easy for police to collect from the crime scene then it's easy enough for criminals to collect from "_not_ the crime scene" and transfer it to the crime scene. Then you need a plausible reason for having been at the crime scene sometime past - this is so you can admit that to the cops if you have to, while the innocent folk will deny ever being there at which point the cops "know" they are lying... and it's pin the blame time (in the US it's called plea bargain I think), but not on you.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:56PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @03:56PM (#748327)

      Circumstantial evidence is proof, why wouldn't it be? It's often times far more accurate that eye witness testimony. The key though is that the prosecution has to do it's whole job, not just cherry pick what evidence they want to use. This means actually considering evidence of an alibi and how the totality of the evidence they've gathered fits together.

      It's not their responsibility to prove innocence, but it is their responsibility to make sure that the evidence is a reasonable match to the person they're looking to charge.

  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @11:29AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @11:29AM (#748268)

    I recall one "mass murderer" who turned out to be an employee at the test swab manufacturer or some-such.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_of_Heilbronn [wikipedia.org]