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Genetic Standing: The Constitutionality of Familial DNA Searching on Genealogical Research Databases

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Abstract: GEDmatch.com is a popular website used for conducting genealogical research. In 2018, law enforcement agencies began using GEDmatch as an investigative tool for solving cold cases by conducting familial DNA searches on its databases. By utilizing in-house forensic specialists or by hiring independent genealogists, investigators can upload raw data from preserved crime scene DNA and search GEDmatch s database for a partial match. If a partial match is found, expert genealogists may construct a family tree often leading law enforcement to a suspect. A subsequent DNA analysis between the suspect s DNA and the preserved crime scene DNA will confirm whether the police have in fact found the correct person. While acknowledging the apparent privacy concerns, this article objectively examines the constitutional issues raised when law enforcement agencies conduct familial DNA searching on online genealogical research databases, such as GEDmatch. After first describing the differences between forensic and genetic DNA testing and explaining the purpose behind familial DNA searching, this article analyzes whether law enforcement conducting familial searching on GEDmatch is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment. If found to be a search, this article then analyzes whether any exceptions to the Fourth Amendment search doctrine apply and most importantly, addresses problems with constitutional standing. Lastly, this article attempts to strike a balance between the privacy issues and the complexity surrounding the constitutional analysis and proposes, at least for the immediate future, that the best approach to regulate law enforcement s use of GEDmatch and other online genealogical research database is through legislative or regulatory action.

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