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,” said Lee.

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

Police come knocking 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 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


Four Dead University of Idaho...
Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Authorities swat down rumors surrounding unsolved killings of 4 University of Idaho students

Authorities in a small Idaho city that had not recorded a murder in years are urging the public to be vigilant against rumors and conjectures surrounding the unsolved killings of four college students last month.
19 hours ago
Authorities in Washington County are investigating the discovery of the body of a 36-year-old man e...
Mark Jones

Staff member at school in southern Utah arrested for alleged sexual abuse

A 22-year-old staff member of a school in southern Utah was arrested Thursday by the Washington County Sheriff's Office for alleged sexual abuse.
2 days ago
provo police car is pictured, the department is investigation a hit-and-run...
Samantha Herrera

21-year-old woman killed in Provo hit-and-run

21-year-old Isabelle Parr was identified as the victim of a hit-and-run in Provo on Thursday. Police believe she was hit while jogging.
2 days ago
Erin mendenhall and two men are pictured at a podium speaking about crime statistics in salt lake...
Samantha Herrera

Project Safe Neighborhoods successfully lowering crime according to Salt Lake leaders

Crime in Salt Lake City has been the focus of Project Safe Neighborhoods for the past two years. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall praised the project.
2 days ago
Layton Police Department...
Mark Jones

Suspect in I-15 shooting named, booked into jail

The suspect involved in Wednesday's officer-involved shooting on southbound I-15 has been identified as 28-year-old Michael John Buttel.
3 days ago
UTA confrontation...
Mark Jones

Confrontation with bicyclist sends UTA bus driver to hospital

UTA officials say a confrontation between a bicyclist and a UTA bus driver resulted in the bus driver suffering a broken hip and being hospitalized.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Lawmaker seeks to curb police mass searches of genetic databases