A Florida detective has been allowed to search a commercial DNA database for clues in a rape case – using the same website that was used to capture the alleged Golden State Killer.
Detective Michael Fields will be able to search more than a million DNA profiles on GEDmatch after a judge has granted what is considered the first order of its kind.
Public access to the website helped the police identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the alleged serial killer in California in 2018.
Enthusiastic police officers then rushed to use the website, which led to a backlash of users who had uploaded their DNA profiles in the hope of finding family members or investigating family history.
Warrant: Orlando detective Michael Fields (pictured left) will be allowed to search the GEDmatch database after a verdict from Judge Patricia Stowbridge (right)
At a Chicago police chiefs conference last week, Fields described how he had sought access to the database to help him solve a rape case.
The new GEDmatch privacy rules dictated that he could only find those users who had chosen to allow police investigations.
According to site founder Curtis Rogers, only 185,000 of the 1.3 million users had done this.
In addition, the new rules required law enforcement officials to identify themselves when searching the website.
Last month it was claimed that the number of resolved cases had fallen due to the rule changes.
Fields, however, penetrated and asked for an order from the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida to bypass the security settings.
Accused: public access to the website helped the police identify Joseph James DeAngelo (pictured in court after his arrest last year) as the alleged Golden State Killer in California
When Florida judge Patricia Strowbridge agreed to the request, the website is said to have complied within 24 hours.
& # 39; That's a huge game changer, & # 39; said Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University.
Fields said he had been approached by countless police officers at the Chicago conference and requested a copy of the order.
He said he hoped the newly discovered police access would be extended to other websites, including Ancestry.com and 23andMe.
& # 39; You would see hundreds and hundreds of unsolved crimes resolved in one night. I hope I get a case where I can try, & he said enthusiastically.
Fields had previously used genetic data to solve a 2001 murder case, which earned him a compliment from the Orlando police.
The use of DNA databases has raised ethical questions, especially since the genetic profile of one person can lead authorities to a family member.
In one case, a woman who investigated her ancestors unintentionally helped the police identify her half-brother as a crime suspect.
Source: users upload their DNA profiles to GEDmatch (whose website is pictured above) hoping to find family members or investigate family history
Research: the use of DNA databases has raised ethical questions, especially since the genetic profile of one person can lead authorities to a family member (file photo)
There are also related questions about whether healthcare providers and insurers can use the information to assess costs.
Ancestry.com has insisted that it will only share data with law enforcement agencies subject to a court order or search warrant.
23 and Me said it would dispute any legal order & # 39; to provide that information to the authorities.
In the Golden State Killer investigation, authorities never approached GEDmatch and relied on public access.
DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018 on the basis of DNA evidence that linked him to at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes in California in the & # 39; 70 and & # 39; 80.
Earlier this year, prosecutors in California announced that they would seek the death penalty against DeAngelo (73) if found guilty.
GEDmatch said at the time that it had always informed users that its databases could be used for purposes other than genealogical research.
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