Genealogy books

Police access bill to DNA genealogy websites left in limbo

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to establish ground rules for how police access genealogy DNA websites is in limbo after the pushback.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, sponsors House Bill 340, which allows law enforcement to request DNA data submitted to third-party sites if it may be relevant to their search for a crime suspect. The bill faces opposition as it does not explicitly require a warrant and some fear police will go on a ‘fishing expedition’ for the DNA of anyone innocently submitted as part of background searches family.

Former Larry H. Miller Group CEO Greg Miller testified in support of the bill. He said it would have helped in the case of his mother-in-law, Sherry Black, who was murdered in her South Salt Lake bookstore in 2010. Police used a blood DNA sample to finally find a suspect years later.

“This bill strikes what I believe is an appropriate balance in protecting the rights of private citizens while preserving the ability of law enforcement to access critical information that has helped, in our family’s case, to apprehend a brutal and violent killer and have made our community and our society safer,” Miller told the House Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Some committee members raised concerns that HB340 violated the Fourth Amendment or that police could circumvent warrant processes to obtain DNA profiles of family members in the search for suspects.

“Does this open up the whole database to say ‘Hey, we’re going to collect all the information we can that provides this link?’ Or is it going to be done gradually? asked Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West.

“This provides an additional step because at this time we don’t have any steps in the state code,” Rep. Eliason said.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said he had similar concerns about law enforcement going on “fishing expeditions.”

“This bill does nothing with the Fourth Amendment. Those protections are still in place,” Rep. Eliason said.

Some genealogy websites have policies requiring police to obtain warrants for specific DNA profiles if they want to help solve a crime. Ancestry.com, a massive Utah-based genealogy website, said it opposed HB340.

“Law enforcement would be looking to access an entire database potentially containing millions of consumer data points and not the data specific to a person suspected of a crime,” said Ritchie Engelhardt, head of government affairs at Ancestry.com, before the committee.

The Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning political group, said it also opposes the bill.

“Our concern is that if the legislature approves a process like this, the courts will validate it as a valid exemption from the requirements of the Fourth Amendment,” said Connor Boyack, executive director of the institute.

The bill was held up in committee, leaving it in limbo. He could still advance in the rest of the legislative session.