The genetic testing company 23andMe has reported that law enforcement agencies have requested the data of five individuals. The news raises concerns that the data from private companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com could be turned over to police without the knowledge or consent of the affected individuals.
According to 23andMe privacy officer Kate Black, it warns customers that results are subject to disclosure to governmental agencies: “We try to make information available on the website in various forms, so through Frequently Asked Questions, through information in our privacy center.” She indicated the company had not yet turned over any customer information, but said, “We would always review a request and take it on a case-by-case basis.” Ancestry.com said that it had already provided customer information in response to a warrant in 2014.
When 23andMe customer Eric Yerham, of Jacksonville, Florida was contacted by a local television statement for comment on this policy, he indicated that he was unaware of the policy and wasn’t happy about it. “The police make mistakes, and I would rather not be on the unfortunate end of one of those mistakes, as a result of my DNA being somewhere that is unlucky.”
Jacksonville physician Saman Soleymani noted that law enforcement can also request results for “familial testing,” and “They can see what the likelihood is of these certain alleles, of these genetic markers, matching up to make it-likelihood of whether you were involved in, let’s say, that criminal activity or not.” When he sent in his DNA, he said, he used an assumed name.
Fortunately, both of the major genetic testing companies offer the choice of deleting your genetic testing result from their databases.
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