Genealogy company allowing Federal Bureau of Investigation to use private DNA database

James Marshall
February 4, 2019

While many DNA testing companies have assured their customers of their efforts to guard confidential data from law enforcement, Buzzfeed reports that Family Tree DNA has been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation by voluntarily granting the agency access to their vast database. This is a new development that users were never consulted about which started with one case and morphed into what it is now according to a spokesperson. By uploading DNA collected from a crime scene to genealogy databases, detectives have been able to locate distant relatives of suspected serial killers and rapists.

Family Tree DNA founder Bennett Greenspan said in a statement that police only have access to the same type of information users already share, such as names, initials, e-mails, and photos. The move calls into question the privacy issues people encounter when using DNA services.

Family Tree DNA executives claim the Federal Bureau of Investigation has the same level of access as a normal user, if agents require additional information they must provide a search warrant or subpoena, such as they did in 2017 for "limited" information on a profile related to the Golden State Killer, although the account was not linked to the criminal. "We are nearing a de facto national DNA database", Natalie Ram, an assistant law professor at the University of Baltimore, told BuzzFeed.

In this case, Family Tree DNA presents itself as a private genealogy database where customers can have their DNA results compared to countless others in the search for lost relatives and to help fill out their family tree.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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