SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that aims to set ground rules for how police access genealogical DNA websites is in limbo after pushback.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is sponsoring House Bill 340, which lets law enforcement request DNA data submitted to third-party sites if it may be relevant to their search for a crime suspect. The bill is facing opposition because it doesn't explicitly demand a warrant and some fear police can go on "fishing expeditions" for anyone's DNA that was innocently submitted as part of family history searches.
Greg Miller, the former CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group, 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 inside her South Salt Lake bookstore in 2010. Police used a DNA sample from blood to ultimately 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 helped, in our family’s case, apprehend a brutal, violent killer and 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 bypass warrant processes to obtain DNA profiles of family members in the search for suspects.
"Does this open up the entire database to say 'Hey, we’re going to collect any information we can that provides that link?' Or is it going to happen incrementally?" asked Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West.
"This provides an incremental step because right now we have no steps in state code," said Rep. Eliason.
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said he had similar concerns about law enforcement going on a "fishing expedition."
"This bill does nothing with the Fourth Amendment. Those protections are still in place," said Rep. Eliason.
Some genealogical websites have policies demanding police get warrants for specific DNA profiles if they want to help solve a crime. Ancestry.com, a massive genealogical website based in Utah, said it opposed HB340.
"Law enforcement would be seeking access to go fishing an entire database with potentially millions of consumers’ data and not the data particular to a person suspected of a crime," Ritchie Engelhardt, Ancestry.com's head of governmental affairs, testified before the committee.
The Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning policy group, said it also opposed the bill.
"Our concern is that by the legislature blessing a process like this, the courts will validate it as a valid exemption from Fourth Amendment requirements," said Connor Boyack, the institute's executive director.
The bill was held in committee, leaving it in limbo. It could still advance in the remainder of the legislative session.