What's the future of using online ancestry sites to catch criminals?

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
In a commentary article, Australian scientists discuss the use of online ancestry sites to catch criminals, as in the recent case of the Golden State Killer in the USA, who was tracked down by comparing crime scene DNA with online genealogy data. They urge caution in the use of this technique, highlighting ethical and privacy concerns, and warning of the risk of a public backlash, particularly as trawling genealogy databases has yielded false leads in some recent cases.

Journal/conference: Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences

DOI: 10.1080/00450618.2018.1486456

Organisation/s: University of Canberra, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Funder: Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, and the Endeavour Fellowships and Awards, a Department of Education and Training initiative

Media Release

From: Taylor and Francis Group

Crowdsourced or crowdfunded: The future of forensic DNA?

Forensic DNA analysis is dependent on comparing the known and the unknown. Expand the number of known profiles, and the likelihood of a successful match increases. Forensic use of DNA is moving towards comparing samples of unknown origin with publicly available genetic data, such as the records held by genetic genealogy providers. Use of forensic genetic genealogy has yielded a number of recent high-profile successes but has raised ethical and privacy concerns. Navigating family trees is complex, even more so when combined with a comparison of genetic relationships. This intelligence-gathering process has already yielded some significant success. There has, however, been occasional false leads, and its use also risks a public backlash, similar to concerns over Cambridge Analytica. A cautious approach to use of this technique is therefore warranted.


  • Taylor and Francis Group
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