Every family has a black sheep. Some have a whole black branch of the tree. No matter how successful or loving a family is, there's always that one cousin you worried about. That one weird uncle your parents taught you to avoid. But we tell ourselves that we're probably just being silly. Cousin Robert might have done a couple of tours of county jail, but he's probably not a murderer, right?
Imagine: you're looking to fill some of the holes in your family tree. There's the mystery cousin who never talks to the family, or a whole branch that just seems to be gone. Maybe your parents never talk about their families, and you want to know more. You upload your DNA to a website to help you locate those relatives you don't even know exist, and the next thing you know the police have arrested your 4th cousin because he is the Golden State Killer -- a monster who raped upwards of 45 women and murdered 13 people.
The Golden State Killer opened the floodgates for law enforcement; since his arrest, at least fivemore cold cases have been solved using websites that are designed to map out your genealogy or track down relatives. While some sites, like Ancestry.com, require a warrant for police to dig through their databases, open source sites like GEDmatch.com (the site used to identify the GSK) do not. Anyone can plug in DNA and see where it leads. This means all of the untested and unmatched DNA from crimes going back decades and the backlog of rape kitsare now open to a new source of investigative technique -- one that has nothing to do with reasonable suspicion and everything to do with people just looking for family.
Think of all the mysteries we could solve. The memory of the GSK's crimes haunted California for decades. Likewise, police are using this technique to look into the Zodiac Killer's gene pool. We could be on the cusp of a crime solving revolution, a great unmasking of boogeymen. All it costs is the privacy of the most intimate thing you own: your body.
Of course, uploading your DNA to an open source website is akin to tossing your privacy right out the window. Anyone can go digging through your DNA; that's kind of the point. But law enforcement has turned people giving up their own rights in order to be found into something else. Now, when you upload your DNA, you're not just giving up those rights for yourself -- you're giving up those rights for your entire family (including the murderers, rapists and other assorted criminals lurking in the branches of your family tree) to anyone in the criminal justice field.
In a perfect world, this is an amazing tool that will be used for truth, justice, protecting the innocent, and all of that. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a country with a staggering amount of wrongful convictions and executions (it is estimated 1 in 25 executed inmates are actually innocent). And that criminal justice system now has its hooks in not just your DNA but the DNA of your loved ones.
But DNA is fool proof, right? It's ironclad evidence. It's not like DNA evidence could be wrong. Except sometimes it is. So how much do you trust that system to work? Would you bet your life on it? The life of your sibling, or child?
Still wondering about that weird cousin? Why not upload your DNA and see if the FBI comes knocking.