Utah Considers Legislation to Block Police From DNA Searches

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Digital Art by Media Services Daresbury Laboratory via Flickr.

A new bill being drafted by Utah representatives would block investigators from having accessibility to DNA databases when trying to solve crimes and cold cases. The bill’s organizer says if this new bill passes, “it would be the first piece of legislation in the country to restrict law enforcement,” ABC4 reports.

Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a self-described liberty-focused think tank in Utah, which spearheaded the bill, described it as an extension of  protections guaranteed by fourth amendment rights to privacy and protection.

The bill is sponsored by West Valley City Representative Craig Hall. Boyack and Hall worked together in the past to pass the Comprehensive Data Privacy Law, aimed at protecting privacy on phones and computers.

Boyack admits that the types of searches he’s focusing on are rare. However, the same searches that Boyack is trying to stop are the searches that have helped to identify suspects in over 50 criminal cases, which Verogen, previously GEDmatch, estimates that number being closer to 70 cases, The Crime Report detailed.

Other DNA Analysis companies that are geared toward finding distant relatives and testing food allergies like 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, all include an iteration of a statement that says they don’t allow law enforcement to access their information to solve crimes.

“We work very hard to protect your information from unauthorized access from law enforcement,” 23andMe’s Customer Care Page details. “However, under certain circumstances, your information may be subject to disclosure pursuant to a judicial or other government subpoena, warrant or order, or in coordination with regulatory authorities.”

23andMe then goes on to say that they notify customers if their DNA has been requested by law enforcement unless the legal request prevents them from doing so.

Part of Boyack’s motivation to write the bill is that he said not all companies provide the same protections.

“Even if you could consent to [your DNA being searched], you can’t consent on behalf of everyone else who might want this to be private,” Boyack told ABC4. “We share our DNA with our siblings, parents, unborn children, distant relatives.”

Prior experiences with DNA and Law Enforcement in Utah seem to have left a bad impression of the technology’s capabilities.

Earlier in 2019, GEDmatch, now Verogen, allowed its site to be used to identify the perpetrator of a violent assault in Utah, “bending rules put in place that were supposed to restrict cops to investigating homicides and sexual assaults,” according to The Crime Report.

Weber County, Utah resident Michelle Holbrook submitted a DNA test to a company early last year, and she believes that DNA databases shouldn’t be completely off-limits to police.

“I see their point that my extended family didn’t give permission, but it’s my DNA,” Holbrook argues on ABC4. “I see it the same way if it was one of my family members or someone I loved that had been sexually assaulted or murdered and there was a tool that could be used to help track down the person responsible.”

When Boyack was asked about cold cases and DNA analysis, he said that he wants to help solve those cases, but that police need to find a suspect first through “traditional law enforcement investigative work,” according to ABC4.

Additional Reading: GEDmatch Sold, Will Serve as ‘Molecular Witness’ for Police

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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