SPECIAL REPORT: The Debate over DNA Privacy - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: The Debate over DNA Privacy


Familial DNA is an increasingly more common way investigators can crack decades-long cold cases. 

Geneaology websites like 23andme.com are made to link you with your family's history.  They allow you to purchase DNA kits to get more details about your past. 

"You just spit into a little vile and mail it to somebody and they mail you back the results,” Steven Bornbach of Wisconsin Rapids said.

Bornbach first got into ancestry in the 1980's after his grandfather saw his interest and told him to do some research on their family history. Now, he has a museum at his home in central Wisconsin.

A geneaology website recently helped crack a decades-long cold case in California.

Joseph James DeAngelo, known as the 'Golden State Killer,' was arrested last month with the help of DNA submitted to a genealogy website. 

Authorities said he's one of California's most difficult to find serial killers. 

The same tool – now used here in Wisconsin.

“I believe right now 12 states allow familial DNA testing and Wisconsin is one,” Dorothy DE Boer, a criminologist at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point said.

UW-Stevens Point Police Chief and former investigator, Tony Babl, said bringing this tool to the badger state is one of the best ways to crack an unsolved case.

DeAngelo was tracked down thanks to genetic information submitted to one of those sites by one of his relatives.

"I look at everything in life as a tool,” Bornbach said. “In this case, DNA testing was used for a good purpose and if you can catch somebody doing wrong who's evil to society, all the power to use that tool."

But it begs the question, is it overstepping for your personal privacy?

"As a law enforcement officer, if it solves crimes and can create some closure for the victims, I don't personally but yeah I can understand why people feel that way,” Babl said. “It wasn't the intention of what they were doing when they were putting their DNA in those databases."
Some say the investigative tool goes too far.

“It certainly is criticized as one of a way to invade our privacy, the ACLU has put out a very clear statement opposed to the familial DNA testing,” DE Boer said.

DE Boer said she doesn't think familial DNA oversteps privacy because it's rarely used and according to the Department of Justice, investigators can only use the tool six times a year in Wisconsin.

"In order for Wisconsin to actually do familial DNA they have to have already attempted to do a traditional DNA match and were not successful,” DE Boer said. “This is rarely used and when it is used it's because it's a clear and obvious public threat such as a serial killer or a serial rapist so in that case, I really do believe it's appropriate.”

Chief Babl said witness ID's are not always one hundred percent accurate and people's recollections fade overtime, whereas DNA is always one hundred percent accurate.

For more information on the law enforcement guides for 23andme.com and Ancestry.com click below.


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