If you’re like most of us, after viewing the holiday commercial by “Ancestry DNA” where Kelly Ripa exclaimed she’s 74% Italian, you were tempted to fork over a few bucks to find out where your ancestral traits come from.
However be forewarned that the FBI may also be interested in accessing your DNA.
In what has the potential of perhaps being the biggest violation of an individual’s right to privacy. “FamilyTreeDNA,” one of the largest private makers of at-home genealogy test kits, has been secretly working with the FBI, allowing the government agency to access millions of its DNA files.
The well-kept secret was revealed on Tuesday by BuzzFeed, after a spokesman for “FamilyTreeDNA” admitted that the private company has given the FBI access to their database, agreeing to use its private lab to test DNA samples at the bureau’s request, and to upload the profiles to its database, on a case-by-case basis.
Thus far the FBI has gained access to more than a million DNA profiles, “most of which were uploaded before the company’s customers had any knowledge of its relationship with the FBI,” BuzzFeed notes.
However, the startling news isn’t the fact that the FBI is working with “FamilyTreeDNA,” but rather admitting publicly for the first time that a private genealogy company has voluntarily allowed law enforcement agencies access its database.
A spokesperson for the company trying to perhaps circumvent the potential firestorm from its customers said that working with the FBI is “a very new development” that started with one case last year and “morphed.” At this point, she said, the company has cooperated with the FBI on fewer than 10 cases.
Online genealogy through DNA has become a popular method for individuals attempting to either locate distant relatives or tracking their ancestral lineage. It can also help law enforcement track down unsolved decades-old criminal cases such as the infamous “Golden State Killer” case which helped identify in April of 2018, Joseph James De Angelo as the individual responsible for more than 50 rapes, 12 murders and more than 120 burglaries across the state of California.
However, any investigative tool can be abused. The recent scandals involving the FBI and DOJ are a prime example of how rogue agents and even leaders within those agencies can abuse their authority.
In December, FamilyTreeDNA changed its terms of service to allow law enforcement to use its database to identify suspects of violent crimes, such as homicide or sexual assaults.
However, the company claims that in order for the FBI to access its database they must have proper search warrants and subpoenas.
The intrusion by the FBI within a private company has many conservatives concerned regarding an individual’s right to privacy.
Moreover, for people who entrusted their personal DNA to companies like FamilyTreeDNA, the news that the company is now working with the FBI must be concerning.
“All in all, I feel violated, I feel they have violated my trust as a customer,” Leah Larkin, a genetic genealogist based in Livermore, California, told BuzzFeed News. “I’ve got to decide whether I want to opt out of matching or delete my kits.”
Larkin, one of the administrators of a Facebook genealogy group with about 50,000 members, predicted that half within the group would be fine with the intrusion of the FBI gaining access to their DNA profiles while the other half will be outraged by the invasion of privacy.
“I think it’s going to cause a lot of uproar,” she said. “We’re going to get the full spectrum.”