Cops are turning to privately held DNA databases for info to help with investigations

For those people who are worried about privacy and know how these things usually work out, the fact that Ancestry.com and 23andMe offered DNA analyzing services for genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic services meant that one day, those databases will be used by law enforcement.

And, as it turns out, they were right.

Ancestry.com, the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, and 23andMe, a personal genomics and biotechnology company, are both privately held. Still, both companies said in their policies that law enforcement will be given access to information in those databases if they provide a court order.

According to Kashmir Hill, they have begun to do so.

Wired’s Brendan Koerner recently wrote about an instance when US cops used DNA information found in a database bought by Ancestry.com and made publicly available by them to try to solve a decades-old unsolved murder.

A so-called familial DNA search tied to the DNA collected at the murder scene turned up a result: a man who ultimately had nothing to do with the incident. Still, the mere fact that he was a suspect might have wreaked havoc in his life.

Koerner noted that “familial DNA searches can generate more noise than signal,” and “the technology’s limitations have the potential to cause real harm.”

These are things that probably none of the people who submitted their DNA for analysis to these two companies (and others) thought about before doing it.

As stated before, both companies said in their privacy policy that there was a possibility that they would be forced to share user data with law enforcement. Also, they are allegedly evaluating very carefully each request for information they get.

23andMe also plans to publish a transparency report about them, and to notify the affected customers about the request (if they are not prohibited to do so).

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Cops are turning to privately held DNA databases for info to help with investigations