When my partner said I shouldn’t try a genealogy service because “they’re going to sell your DNA,” I thought he was being overcautious. As it turns out, it seems he was on to something, as Action News Jax reports that sites like 23andMe and Ancestry are willing to give up your genetic code to the cops.
According to the Jacksonville, Fla., news outlet, law enforcement can request genetic info from the two genealogy companies to identify you in a criminal investigation. Both 23andMe and Ancestry have confirmed with Action News that such information can be disclosed if law enforcement agencies have a warrant. In fact, Ancestry says that in 2014, the site went along with a search warrant to identify one of its customers based on a DNA sample.
“We try to make information available on the website in various forms, so through Frequently Asked Questions, through information in our privacy center,” 23andMe privacy officer Kate Black said. The company’s self-reported data reveals law enforcement has inquired about five of its customers, and though it has not yet shared data, Black says the company isn’t entirely opposed. “We would always review a request and take it on a case-by-case basis,” Black said.
And the police are able to request more than just your DNA. If you or a family member sent a saliva sample to either company, law enforcement can also request that genetic information for what it calls “familial matching.”
“They can see what the likelihood is of these certain alleles, of these genetic markers, matching up to make it—likelihood of whether you were involved in, let’s say, that criminal activity or not,” Jacksonville-based Dr. Saman Soleymani, an expert witness in local criminal cases who has done extensive studies on genetics, told Action News.
That’s a bit unnerving for anyone simply trying to trace their family roots. The good news is that if you or anyone you know has ever submitted genetic material to either site, there is a way to remove your results. But you never really know what happens with your info once submitted.
“The police make mistakes and I would rather not be on the unfortunate end of one of those mistakes, as a result of my DNA being somewhere that is unlucky,” Eric Yarham, Jacksonville resident and 23andMe customer said.
Moral of the story? Track your ancestry at your own risk.