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How much information are you giving away when you search for DNA matches?

Posted at 6:54 PM, Apr 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-28 10:31:38-04

It's one of America's most favorite hobbies -- tracing our family tree. All you have to do is send off some of your DNA and upload the results in hopes of finding long lost relatives. But security experts warn, there is a major trade off if you do that. 

Like every national story, there seems to be a tie to Florida. The latest: police in California used the GEDatch database to help identify the golden state killer. It's a free site where people can post results from bigger companies like or 23 and me, all to expand their search for family.

The co-owner of the company works out of a tiny office in Lake Worth. He did not want to go on camera but said users need to understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives who have committed crimes, as is the case in this story. 

"A lot of people are going to be freaked out," said Alan Crowetx, WPTV's internet security expert. 

Crowetz said when you do a DNA test for genealogy and give it to a company, you are pretty much giving away a fingerprint of yourself. 

"This is like giving them hard drives upon hard drives ... volumes of volumes of information about yourself," he said. "Bad guys are all over this, or in this case, the good guys are using it to get people."

The good guys in being law enforcement.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said access to DNA is paramount. It was trace DNA later processed that helped crack a major cold case a few years back, linking a rapist to the assault of a mother and daughter. 
"I think the essence of what we are talking about, whether we have a national FBI database or DNA that we have access to or a privately collected DNA source,  if law enforcement has access to that DNA, the community that we serve is that much safer," he said. 

The owner of the GEDmatch database told WPTV NewsChannel 5 he first heard about law enforcement's involvement overnight when he got a phone call. He said if you are concerned, you should not upload to the database and remove what's already been uploaded.