Recently, I had the idea that maybe I would want to get my DNA tested through one of those home testing kits. My thought on this was to gain a better understanding of my possible future health concerns. Maybe that isn’t the way to approach my health, but it’s something that has been weighing on my mind. But now I’m not so sure that I want to considering that the FBI is now partnering with one of the largest at-home DNA testing services. The DNA testing company Family Tree has now allowed the FBI to access its genealogy database containing the DNA profiles of over a million users. Law enforcement agencies have been leveraging the public’s fascination with DNA testing as a tool to crack cases for quite some time now. But is this ok? Should they have access to these databases?
When I think about this objectively, I always go back to something my dad used to say when I was growing up. Which is if you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide. And I’d really like to believe that. I’d really like to believe in that simpler time. But I don’t think that we live in that world anymore. Or maybe my naivety got in the way, and that time never really existed. When I think about sharing my DNA with a law enforcement agency, it’s not necessarily about whether I’ve done something wrong. It’s about not wanting my DNA (or anyone else’s for that matter) to be used in a way that could harm them. The big question that needs to be asked is whether or not we think it’s ok for Family Tree to test people’s DNA in order to locate criminals.
Family Tree doesn’t have a contract with the FBI. And maybe they can’t. But they have been testing DNA samples and uploading the results to their database since last fall. In December, 2018, they changed their terms of service to say that it allows law enforcement to access their database to identify suspects for violent crimes, which includes homicide, and sexual assault. In addition, they test DNA to identify the remains of victims. I can get behind the latter use, but they’re saying that they’re using this to identify suspects. What if you’re not guilty of the crime in question? What if your DNA is at the scene for another reason? I’m thinking about how much hair I shed on a regular basis. Could I have left hair somewhere that was eventually the scene of a homicide?
Again, I don’t feel like I have to worry about this, but I still do. I think this partnership could lead to some pretty serious privacy concerns. They’re not just getting access to the database to locate people who have committed crimes, but they will also be able to see relatives of people who have committed crimes. Family Tree made the following statement:
“Without realizing it [Family Tree DNA founder and CEO Bennett Greenspan] had inadvertently created a platform that, nearly two decades later, would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever.”
Scary, huh? That said, the company has stressed that customers have the ability to opt-out of their matching feature in their account settings. Will that prevent the misuse of this data? That remains to be seen, but one positive thing we can take away is the fact that Family Tree DNA was one of the firms linked to law enforcement’s capture of the Golden State Killer last year. This was after their parent company received a subpoena asking for more information. Maybe its not so bad after all?