POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Utah lawmaker wants more privacy protections for DNA database users

Feb 9, 2024, 10:00 AM | Updated: 6:30 pm

A DNA strand stretched across a piece of paper with words typed on it meant to represent DNA....

A new bill could use your genealogy tests in court. (Canva)

(Canva)

Editorial note: This story has been edited from its original version to correct an inaccurate characterization of the bill in its draft form and to clarify that some of the provisions around privacy are already in place. 

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is considering adding more protections for consumers to the state’s laws that protect the privacy of people who submit DNA samples to genetic genealogy databases. 

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsored the bill signed by Gov. Spencer Cox into law last year that gives users of those sites more of a say over what happens to their data. It’s an attempt to balance the needs of police, who see investigative genetic genealogy as a possible tool in identifying DNA from crime scenes, and the privacy concerns of the public, who may not realize their DNA is used in that way. 

Weiler used the example of someone uploading a DNA sample to a genetic genealogy site to determine their risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. 

“20 years later, they’re looking to solve a crime that your second cousin, who’s never met you, has committed. But because you opted into this database with your Alzheimer’s search, now the police can nail him,” Weiler told KSL NewsRadio on Friday night. “If you’re on the law enforcement side of the fence, you’d say, ‘Wonderful, we’re going to catch a criminal.’ But if you’re on the privacy side of the fence… ‘I’ve never met this person before, she’s like my aunt’s cousin or whatever, how could she have made me opt in?'” 

Weiler said it’s a tough balancing act. 

“We want to solve crimes, but also we don’t want to trod over everyone’s privacy interests. And that’s the needle we’re trying to thread,” Weiler said. 

DNA databases and your privacy 

Last year’s bill requires sites to provide opt-in and opt-out language for users. In other words, those sites must allow users to decide whether law enforcement agencies can access their DNA. 

This year, he has filed draft legislation to put some more guardrails in place for privacy. 

“The database companies themselves have made significant improvements and addressed the security issues both internally with a user agreement with those who are working within the law enforcement opt-out sanctions,” Weiler said. 

Weiler said he hopes to protect consumer data without further victimizing the families of crime victims. 

“What I’m interested in is moving forward with genetic privacy data laws that would not further victimize grieving families, but rather provide a better level of protection for their genetic data,” he said. 

Next steps for investigative genetic genealogy

He’s currently studying a similar law on the books in Montana. 

In the meantime, his draft legislation is before the Senate Rules Committee. It will decide whether it advances for further consideration in the 2024 legislative session. 

Weiler said he hopes that victims’ families in the future find a resolution sooner. He also hopes DNA database users can feel confident their privacy is protected. 

“When they finally caught the Sherry Black killer, he said two things. He said, ‘How did you ever find me?’ And ‘What took you so long? I have been waiting for this day for ten years,'” Weiler said. “I think about that a lot and how profound that is.” 

Related:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Politics + Government

View of Salt Lake City pictured, governor is cracking down on denver sending immigrants to utah...

Aimee Cobabe

Utah governor’s office pushing back against Denver for bussing immigrants to Utah

Gov. Spencer Cox's office says that the City of Denver did not consult with them about sending immigrants to Utah.

1 day ago

The Capitol is pictured in Salt Lake City, the governor hascalled a special session...

Sam Herrera and Jessica Lowell

Gov. Cox calls special legislative session to be held on Juneteenth

The special legislative session happens on Juneteenth. The governor's office said it would observe Juneteenth on Monday rather than Wednesday.

2 days ago

A Biden-Harris campaign sign is seen among signs for other Utah Democratic Party candidates during ...

Eric Cabrera

Stealing campaign signs could get you a misdemeanor charge

Police say stealing campaign signs from your neighbor's lawn could cost you a misdemeanor, or even the right to vote.

2 days ago

Image of GOP primary candidates for Utah's 1st Congressional District, Paul Miller (left) and the i...

Curt Gresseth

Utah’s GOP primary: Miller challenging Moore in 1st District

In the Republican primary, Paul Miller is challenging incumbent Rep. Blake Moore for Utah's 1st Congressional District.

2 days ago

As the push to the Republican primary election for U.S. Senate heats up, one candidate appears to ...

Daniel Woodruff, ksl.com

Brad Wilson appears to be pulling back in U.S. Senate race

As the push to the Republican primary election for U.S. Senate heats up, Brad Wilson appears to be slowing down.

2 days ago

This combo image shows President Joe Biden, left, Jan. 5, 2024, and Republican presidential candida...

Heather Peterson

Presidential election approaches, and Utah has donated more to Biden

As the 2024 presidential election approaches, donations for President Joe Biden's campaign in Utah are outpacing those of Donald Trump.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Utah lawmaker wants more privacy protections for DNA database users