The arrangement is the first time a commercial testing company has voluntarily given law enforcement access to user data. A privacy advocate calls the deal “deeply flawed.”
The decision by a prominent consumer DNA-testing company to share data with federal law enforcement means investigators have access to genetic information linked to hundreds of millions of people, reports Bloomberg. FamilyTreeDNA, an early pioneer of the rapidly growing market for consumer genetic testing, confirmed it has granted the FBI access to its vast trove of nearly 2 million genetic profiles. The arrangement was first reported by BuzzFeed News. Concerns about unfettered access to genetic information gathered by testing companies have increased since April, when police used a genealogy website to ensnare a suspect in the decades-old case of the Golden State Killer. That site, GEDmatch, was open-source, meaning police were able to upload crime-scene DNA data to the site without permission. The latest arrangement is the first time a commercial testing company has voluntarily given law enforcement access to user data.
The move is of concern to more than just privacy-minded FamilyTreeDNA customers. One person sharing genetic information exposes those to whom they are closely related. That’s how police caught the alleged Golden State Killer. FamilyTreeDNA’s cooperation with the FBI more than doubles the amount of genetic data that law enforcement had access to through GEDmatch. On a case-by-case basis, the company will test DNA samples for the FBI and upload profiles to its database, allowing law enforcement to see familial matches to crime-scene samples. “The deal between FamilyTreeDNA and the FBI is deeply flawed,” said John Verdi of the Future of Privacy Forum. “It’s out of line with industry best practices, it’s out of line with what leaders in the space do and it’s out of line with consumer expectations.”