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Golden State Killer suspect’s capture sparks DNA site privacy concerns

Posted at 10:35 PM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-28 01:35:43-04

We’re learning how investigators tracked down the accused Golden State Killer.

Authorities say modern technology in the form of a genealogy website was key to cracking the case.

On Friday, suspected serial killer, Joseph DeAngelo went before a judge. He’s believed to have killed four people in Goleta and eight other Californians.

"It’s kind of insane that we can use that technology to find people that are committing crimes," said Anna Loader.

Earlier this week, police say they arrested DeAngelo suspected of a dozen killings and more than 50 rapes from 1976 to 1986. The 72-year-old, a former police officer, mumbled in court on Friday: "I have a lawyer."

Lead investigator in the case, Paul Holes says DNA from one crime scene was compared with genetic profiles on public DNA matching website, GEDmatch. The goal: find distant relatives of the killer.

"If you see that they share a little bit more DNA, you’ve stepped a little bit closer to who the offender is," Holes explained.

Authorities narrowed down the suspect pool leading them to DeAngelo.

"I was honestly really shocked that they were able to do something like that," said Bryan Padilla.

"I think whatever means necessary you should use to capture them," added Josh Loader.

GEDmatch is headquartered in a Florida house. Users who have DNA profiles from commercial companies such as ancestry.com and 23andme can expand their search for relatives, for free on GEDmatch.

"All of our information is public, that’s a little crazy. I’m kind of hesitant to use that now myself," said Anna Loader.

"It kind of scares me knowing that they were able to kind of track down some random person out of the whole database," Padilla continued.

In a statement, the company says "It is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes."

"It’s just interesting how much information really can be discovered from these DNA websites," concluded Madeline Hahn.

We reached out to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Offices and we told so far, they have not used DNA sites to solve any crimes.

GEDmatch says it was never contacted by law enforcement or anyone else about the Golden State Killer case or the DNA profile used. Companies such as 23andme and ancestry.com say they do not allow police to access genetic data unless there’s a court order.