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Private Companies Use DNA Profiles to Snitch on Customers and Their Families

by Douglas Ankney

Most DNA testing companies will not provide customer data to law enforcement unless there is a lawful court order. But FamilyTreeDNA distinguishes itself by not just permitting police to access its consumer data but also relishes in doing so. In a company ad, the father of kidnapping-victim Elizabeth Smart urges people to upload their DNA profiles to assist police with solving crime. And, in a press release, the company says it feels a “moral responsibility” to “help prevent violent crimes, save lives, or bring closure to families.”

However, when people volunteer their DNA profiles, they are also volunteering their entire genetic family tree, including their parents, siblings, children, cousins, and even distant cousins—without their consent. In Iowa, a woman sent her DNA to GEDMatch to find lost relatives and related ancestors. The DNA was used by law enforcement to arrest her second cousin twice removed. And, in 2018, police identified the “Golden State Killer” suspect by uploading crime-scene DNA to GEDMatch. A genetic scientist at the company determined the DNA came from a person related to other people who had submitted DNA profiles. Then, using birth records and newspaper clippings, the scientist suggested the crime-scene DNA belonged to former cop Joseph DeAngelo. Police compared the DNA with DNA recovered from DeAngelo’s trash and confirmed it came from him.

Some may view this method of investigation favorably. But do we want private companies using our third cousin’s DNA to have our children arrested for under-age cigarette smoking based on DNA from discarded butts? 



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