In recent years, home DNA test kits have become increasingly popular. With just a simple cheek swab, anyone can learn detailed information about their ethnicity, heritage, and even health information. People have also used DNA testing services to locate lost family members.
But does all this information come with a price? According to reports, at least one DNA testing company has admitted that it shares its customer database with the police. This means that someone who is simply interested in learning more about their family origins could end up being involved in a police investigation.
In fact, the police have already used information gathered from a genetic database to crack a cold case. In 2018, police in California used DNA from a testing service to track down a serial killer known as the Golden State Killer. The man, who was living in a Sacramento suburb, was charged with 12 deaths and 50 sexual assaults spanning 1974 to 1986. Police described locating the killer as “finding a needle in a haystack.” Their work was only possible due to data they obtained through the DNA testing service’s database.
DNA Testing Service Shares Data with Police
One DNA testing company known as FamilyTreeDNA has acknowledged that it does much more than try to help people build their family trees. The company admitted that it has given police access to the more than one million records in its database. The company also permits police to add crime scene DNA information to its database.
With full access to the company’s database, police can compare DNA samples from crime scenes to the samples available on the company’s website. This helps them make matches and locate individuals suspected of committing a crime.
In addition to sharing data with the police, FamilyTreeDNA has acknowledged that its genetic laboratory has assisted police in solving several criminal cases. The company has stated that it still requires police to obtain a warrant or subpoena before they will be granted access to customer data.
Despite the warrant or subpoena requirement and the great crime-solving potential, public concern over the possibility of law enforcement being able to access this information continues to grow.
The chance that other entities might attempt to access genetic data for less righteous purposes is disturbing to many. For example, an insurance company might want to know if an individual is genetically predisposed to certain health conditions. If they are able to use genetic data to find this information, the insurance company could decide to decline coverage or charge a higher rate for someone who has a family history of a particular disease.
Should People Be Concerned About DNA Testing Companies Sharing Their Data?
AncestryDNA and 23andMe, which are two of the largest home DNA testing companies, have gone on record stating they don’t allow the police to search their databases. Reports state that 23andMe has 5 million individuals in its database. With 10 million DNA profiles, AncestryDNA has the largest known database of consumer DNA.
Both companies have stated that their policies don’t permit them to voluntarily coordinate with police. As of 2018, a 23andMe spokesperson stated that the company had received five requests from law enforcement to share data, and that the company declined all requests.
AncestryDNA stated that it has cooperated with the police in identity theft cases, but that police haven’t contacted the company to obtain any genetic information.
What Can Consumers Do to Protect Their DNA?
Consumers who are worried about the police having access to their genetic information should contact the DNA testing company they want to use. Some companies have features that allow users to turn off genetic matching.
This setting stops the police from comparing user DNA data to DNA gathered from crime scenes. However, disabling this setting also means users aren’t able to participate in any relative location services. For people who are looking to connect with long lost relatives, this can be a disappointment.
It may also be possible for users to remove their DNA information from a DNA testing company’s website. Individuals who are concerned should contact the company directly and ask for instructions for withdrawing their data from the company’s database. However, many DNA testing services say they can’t always guarantee that all user data will be removed from their databases.
Contact a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Case
Many people are surprised to learn that DNA evidence isn’t foolproof. Modern DNA extraction techniques are sophisticated enough to extract even trace amounts of DNA from a crime scene, but this DNA can easily become contaminated by other DNA around it. If “accidental transfer” occurs, police can accuse an innocent person of being present at a crime scene or even carrying out a crime.
If you have been charged with a crime based on DNA evidence, it’s important to work with an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense team can explain your options and help you decide the best course of action in your case.