States pass laws limiting use of DNA searches for criminal investigations

Illustration by Ana Kova

Maryland and Montana recently became the first states in the nation to pass laws limiting law enforcement’s use of DNA databases to solve crimes. The strategy, sometimes called genetic genealogy, has been used to find dozens of people accused of violent crimes, including the Golden State Killer, but raises genetic privacy concerns.

The laws focus on consumer DNA databases, which let people upload their genetic information and use it to connect with relatives. Over the past few years, law enforcement officers have started using the databases to track down suspects: they can upload DNA found at a crime scene and use matches with relatives to narrow their pool of suspects, and in some cases find the alleged criminal.

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