Will your genealogy test data become searchable by law enforcement?

Mar 7, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm
Genealogy tests...
Researching and building genealogy is encouraged by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — Whether referred to as “the Sherry Black bill” or SB.156, a new bill is regulating investigative genetic genealogy and which information law enforcement can access. 

As predicted by the Center for Genetics and Society, CGS, at the start of 2021, 100 million people had taken at-home DNA tests. 

Utah’s SB.156 outlines how law enforcement can use and access this data.

According to bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Salt Lake, if you submit DNA and consent to external law enforcement use, your DNA data is fair game. 

“[Law enforcement] has to be using only databases that have made the consumer aware that [their] data could be used for that purpose,” Rep. Eliason told KSL NewsRadio. 

The two leading forces of genealogy data collection are Ancestry of Lehi, Utah, and 23andMe of Mountain View, California.

CGS says these privately held companies now have the world’s largest collections of human DNA. 

However, the two DNA powerhouses, Ancestry and 23andme, allegedly don’t even offer an area for users to consent. This means those who have given data to Ancestry and 23andme can’t have their data used by law enforcement. 

Additionally, if your close or distant relative gives consent to law enforcement, your data may be easily discoverable. 

“One of the important things to note,” said Rep. Eliason, is”up until this bill passed, there were no guard rails in place in state law, it was kinda a free for all.”

Rep. Eliason explained that opt-in options need to be very obvious for people, which it currently is not. He also explained that the newer guard rails are put in place to protect people who aren’t being protected now. 

DNA matching and Sherry Black

Sherry Black was murdered in 2010. It was through a DNA match that police were able to find her killer and arrest him. 

The case had gone hold and according to COLD podcast host Dave Cawley, genealogy brought it back to life.

At her bookstore in south Salt Lake, the place of her murder, DNA was collected from the scene.

Although police had the suspect’s DNA, they had no way to trace it because he wasn’t in Unified Police’s database. 

A detective for UPD then did a genetic genealogy search with the suspect’s DNA and began forming a family tree. It was the DNA program that led the police to their suspect.

“If you look at this bill… it actually talks about that specific situation,” said Cawley on KSL NewsRadio. “They can’t just have a criminal investigator use a genetic genealogy link to charge somebody. It is a step in the process. But it by itself can’t be used as grounds to make the arrest.  

Further, Cawley points out it is either an all-or-nothing situation with what data police can use. But with SB. 156, there is a middle ground. 

Finally, Cawley said to consider the other positive uses of the bill. For example, it can help with identifying unidentified remains and proving innocence, not guilt. 

The law won’t go into effect until this summer and only if Gov. Spencer Cox approves it.  

Listen to both Rep. Steve Eliason and Dave Cawley discuss the bill on KSL NewsRadio


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Will your genealogy test data become searchable by law enforcement?