Genealogists who want to learn more about their heritage could choose to use a direct-to-consumer DNA test kit. Send a sample of your saliva to the company that makes the test kit, and wait for the results. Some companies use the DNA of their customers in order to help find cures for diseases. It appears that this isn’t the only thing your donated DNA could be used for.
In October of 2015, Kashmir Hill wrote an article on Fusion that was titled “Cops are asking Ancestry.com and 23andMe for their customers’ DNA”. The key point of the article is the claim that those two companies are handing over their customer’s DNA to law enforcement. As you might imagine, this article got a lot of attention.
The AncestryDNA privacy information includes the following: Examples of the limited scenarios where AncestryDNA may disclose personal information to third parties are… (c) as may be required by law, regulatory authorities, or legal process…
The privacy information at 23andMe states: We work very hard to protect your information from unauthorized access from law enforcement. However, under certain circumstances, your information may be subject to disclosure pursuant to a judicial or government subpoena, warrant, or order, in coordination with regulatory authorities. If such a situation arises, we have to comply with valid governmental requests and we will notify the affected individual(s) unless the legal request prevents us from doing so.
Wired has an article that was written by Brendan I. Koerner. The article was titled “Your Relative’s DNA Could Turn You Into A Suspect”. The article discusses a situation where police questioned a man whom they suspected had committed a crime.
The man was innocent. However, the police felt the need to question him because DNA found at the crime scene had similarities to the man’s father’s DNA. The father had once donated some DNA to a genealogy project through his Mormon church. That project, and the DNA it contained, was purchased by Ancestry.com. The police obtained the father’s DNA because it was on a publicly searchable website. They were doing a familial genetic search.
The Fusion article reports that Ancestry.com has since clarified about the website the police searched. That website was a publicly available one that Ancestry has since taken offline. No one can search that website anymore. Law enforcement can no longer use that website and then come to Ancestry with a warrant to get the name that matched the DNA.
What you think about all of this is up to you. If you find the situation disturbing, there is a remedy. Both Ancestry and 23andMe will delete your DNA information if you ask them to.
Image by Scott Davidson on Flickr.
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