Gedmatch Contacts Users about Terms of Service and Law Enforcement Use

This is perhaps a first.  This morning Gedmatch emailed its users to explain the new terms of service.  Recently all kits were opted-out of law enforcement searching.  Some people have opted-in, but not all members of the community were aware of this change.

Now the full database has been contacted (or attempted to be contacted).  Hopefully this will spread the information about the change and get more users to consider whether they want to opt-in.

The full text of the email:

As you may know, we at GEDmatch recently instituted a change of policy regarding law enforcement (LE) use of our site. We now require specific approval from each user who wishes to have their information available for LE use. If permission is not given there is no change in user ability to use GEDmatch for genealogical purposes. We have also redefined the definition of violent crimes in our Terms of Service to better fit the national standard established by the FBI. This email will bring you up to date on these changes.

Most importantly, we wish to make it clear that we strongly support law enforcement. The use of genetic genealogy for providing leads in violent crimes has been called the “Biggest crime-fighting breakthrough in decades” Its incredible success to date has been due almost entirely to the GEDmatch database. We encourage users who approve of LE use to “opt-in” (make their information available for use in catching violent criminals). Those who opt-in may never know if their information has been used to catch a murderer, rapist or otherwise dangerous person. One reason police do not contact users whose information might be used to solve cases is that it runs the risk of alerting a potential suspect. It is also important to note that LE does not have any special access to GEDmatch. They simply use the system and its features in the exact same manner as any member of the public but are limited to seeing only matches with opted-in kits.

There may be some users of GEDmatch who do not wish to make their information available to LE. These persons do not need to take any action; their previously uploaded kits are automatically “opted-out.” They can use GEDmatch as they always have and their information remains invisible to LE.

It is important to understand the role played by genetic genealogy in solving cases. Genetic genealogy does NOT identify suspects. It points to a complicated process involving many people, that if successful will result in identifying persons of interest. Most cases that do not go cold start with persons of interest. Genetic genealogy simply puts police in the position most cases start; it provides a person or persons of interest where none existed previously. Once LE has a person of interest it is up to them to use traditional investigative techniques to identify and arrest a suspect.

We have clarified our definition of violent crimes because the original definition was not consistent with the definition in general use by the FBI and others. We learned this when a 71 year old church organist was attacked and apparently left for dead as she practiced alone in church. There was no known motive for the attack other than possibly the thrill of doing it. There are those who felt that this did not fit our definition of a violent crime.

We changed our Terms to require an affirmative action by the kit owner to allow information to be visible to LE because we believe it is the right thing to do. Because there are those who do not wish to have their information used for LE purposes, we believe the ethically responsible position is to require users to specifically agree to the LE use of their data. This was a very difficult decision to make because of the temporary immediate impact it will have.

We are concerned about the handicap our actions have placed on solving cold cases. There are millions of victims, including family and friends of violent crime victims and unidentified remains who need some sense of closure. We have a fast start to rebuilding the LE portion of the GEDmatch database. We encourage everyone who has had a genetic DNA test done to consider helping to build the database for law enforcement use as quickly as possible.

The GEDmatch Management

Posted in DNA

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