S. Hernandez, “One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI”, Buzzfeednews.com, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/salvadorhernandez/family-tree-dna-fbi-investigative-genealogy-privacy. [Accessed: 01- Feb- 2019].
About the article author
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for Buzzfeed News.
The popularity of at-home DNA testing kits has skyrocketed in recent years, allowing people to discover their ancestry and potential for genetic disorders. When using companies with public databases, they can even track down unknown relatives. Now, for the first time, a genealogy company has given the FBI access to their database. Reporter Salvador Hernandez writes about the privacy concerns associated with this new technology. The FBI will now have access to the genetic information of Family Tree DNA’s over 1 million users. Most customers were unaware of the site’s potential use in criminal investigation when they signed up. Even so, willing customers aren’t the only ones whose information can be obtained. In early 2018, the FBI scanned a public database and found distant relatives of a genetic match to the Golden State Killer, who took at least 13 lives in the 70’s and 80’s. Though Joseph DeAngelo wasn’t on the database himself, law enforcement were able to reconstruct a family tree with his relatives’ data and pinpoint him as the suspect. While forensic scientists celebrated this breakthrough, privacy concerns continue to dominate the conversation. Many worry about what else the FBI could do with our information, and who else could get a hold of it.
While these privacy concerns are valid, they should not overshadow the benefits of this technology. Law enforcement has had its own DNA database for decades with little pushback because those affected are criminals. This development doesn’t need to be any different. A broader genetic database isn’t necessarily a slippery slope, and with transparency from forensic scientists, this technology could be truly used only for good. For now, companies like Family Tree DNA are helping bring justice to unsolvable cases, and peace of mind to victims’ families.