Lawmaker seeks to curb police mass searches of genetic databases

Feb 4, 2020, 6:54 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — In the age-old balancing act between privacy and public safety, a Utah lawmaker has spotted what he sees as an online danger zone.

State Republican Rep. Craig Hall of West Valley City joined Lee Lonsberry on his show Live Mic to talk about his legislation (HB 231) that he said would guard against government cyber-snooping of genetic information.

“In the last few years, consumer DNA screenings have exploded,” he said, especially in Utah —  home to genealogists and ancestry hobbyists.

“I’ve spit in a tube myself and mailed it off to Ancestry.com,” said Lee.

“What my bill would do is prohibit mass searches of genetic databases by the government,” said Hall.

Police come knocking

Ancestry.com said Monday that it rejected a search warrant from a Pennslyvania court to allow police access to its database of 16 million DNA profiles.

Hall acknowledged that Ancestry.com and 23AndMe do a good job of protecting customers’ privacy and “resist any kind of law enforcement intrusion.”

However, in November for the first time, a Florida state judge forced public genealogy site GEDmatch to allow police to search its database of DNA profiles. A detective sought a distant relative of a serial rapist in hopes that their family trees could help him locate a suspect—even though most of the 1.3 million people who have shared their DNA data with the site haven’t agreed to such a search.

GEDmatch has since updated its policy that police only get matches from the DNA profiles of users who have given permission.

California detectives in 2018 tracked down the identity of the Golden State Killer using DNA collected at a crime scene decades earlier to locate distant relatives of the alleged killer, 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo.

Searching family tree ‘because we can’

Hall said the privacy concerns arise from the publicly accessible websites where people upload DNA profiles to see who in the world they are related to.

“It’s understandable that law enforcement would want to find leads using this very private DNA information,” he said, adding, “but we need to protect the privacy of innocent individuals as well.

“If the government-mandated a camera in every house, we’d be able to catch a lot of bad guys, but, of course, the Constitution doesn’t allow that,” Hall said.

Hall said his bill would still allow law enforcement to use DNA where they have probable cause to catch a certain suspect to confirm a match.

He said he wants to prevent police from searching millions of DNA profiles of hunting for criminals “because we can.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.


Today’s Top Stories


Vehicles enter Zion National Park   on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. With Independence Day set for Mond...
Mark Jones

Busy weekend expected at Zion National Park

With it being Independence Day on Monday, Zion National Park officials are expecting a busy weekend at the park and say visitors should expect long lines.
1 day ago
draper shooting police...
Mark Jones

Party ban becomes permanent for Airbnb

Airbnb announced this week that it is placing permanent ban on disruptive parties. In April, two people died in a shooting at an Airbnb in Draper.
1 day ago
Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. Photo credit: Uta...
Devin Oldroyd

Hogle Zoo welcomes new Red Panda in effort to conserve the species

Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. It hopes to breed her with Mow Mow, a red panda currently living there.
1 day ago
A sign at Bluffdale City Hall in Bluffdale on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, encourages people to vote. Pho...
Waverly Golden

Husband of Bluffdale mayor faces charges threatening city councilman

The husband of the Bluffdale mayor is facing charges in connection to threatening and stalking a political opponent.
1 day ago
This June 20, 2017, photo provided by Chris Wonderly shows Hovenweep Castle at Hovenweep National M...
Curt Gresseth

Supreme Court widens state power over tribes. What does it mean for Utah?

The director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs discusses the recent US Supreme Court ruling and what it means for tribes in Utah.
1 day ago
A bullet hole in a white wall. The SLCPD urges gun safety practices...
Samantha Herrera

SLCPD says an accidental gunshot almost hit an 8-year-old, offers gun safety reminder to community

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department sent out a reminder about gun safety Thursday morning following an incident earlier in the week where a gunshot reportedly traveled through an apartment wall, past an 8-year-old boy. The boy was unharmed but police urged the community to practice gun safety. The SLCPD said […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Lawmaker seeks to curb police mass searches of genetic databases