by Aaron Kesel, Activist Post:
The FBI is abusing ancestry genealogy websites by tapping into their DNA data. What’s worse, these companies are giving up users’ data under presumed consent that is buried in their terms and conditions, according to several reports.
FamilyTreeDNA is the first company known to be cooperating directly with the FBI to give its agents access to its genealogy database, according to a BuzzFeed report.
A FamilyTreeDNA spokesperson told BuzzFeed that FamilyTreeDNA’s agreement with the FBI gives the agency the ability to search more than a million genetic profiles — the majority of which were given by their customers without knowledge of the company’s relationship with the FBI. As part of the arrangement, FamilyTreeDNA has further agreed to test DNA evidence and identify the remains of deceased individuals in violent crimes for the FBI in its own laboratory.
In a statement, FamilyTreeDNA said that customers have the ability to opt out of matching features in their account settings. Doing so would prevent law enforcement from accessing their genetic information, but it also means a user would be unable to find potential family members through the service. According to Gizmodo, the company also seems to admonish those who choose to opt out by suggesting that it could be a “moral responsibility” to give up their private health information to the FBI.
Forensic magazine reports that the FBI had previously had access to FamilyTreeDNA’s database before the partnership with the FBI.
After news broke that the FBI was accessing user data, FamilyTreeDNA announced that it would allow its customers to bar law enforcement from accessing their data, Engadget reported.
As an interesting corporate connection to make, one of the co-founders of 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki, is married to Google’s Sergey Brin. Unsurprisingly, Google Inc. also backs the DNA analysis company.
Last year, Drug giant GlaxoSmithKline invested US$300 million in the DNA-testing company in a deal that should raise eyebrows. A drug company working together with a DNA database company … what could possibly go wrong?
Under the deal, GSK has exclusive rights for four years to use 23andMe’s DNA database to develop new medicines using human genetics.
Activist Post reported last year Houston police launched a pilot program with the company ANDE to test a machine called Rapid DNA that runs DNA tests in under two hours.
Local news station KHOU11 reported,
“This rapid DNA is the future. It comes down to when mathematicians stopped using abacuses and started using calculators. It’s that important to criminal justice,” said Lt. Warren Meeler, Houston Police Department, Homicide Division.
As part of the test program, proper protocol for using the technology has been to swab each piece of evidence twice. First, the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) takes an official sample for the lab, then Houston police take a second sample for the trial machine.
Rapid DNA results can’t be used in court, and the technology is only used for investigations in Houston, according to the news outlet.
“I think everybody is comfortable that if there is a high concentration of DNA from a single source, so an oral swab from an individual, we’re confident the instruments produce good data. The questions start to come in circumstances where we’ve got touch DNA — smaller quantities of DNA, more mixtures, there’s more people on that doorknob that I’m swabbing – there I’m not sure anybody knows yet,” said Dr. Peter Stout, President and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center.
However, further research shows that Houston isn’t the only city using rapid DNA, police departments across the country—have rolled out their own pilot programs to test these miniature portable DNA lab machines that originate from the DHS.
“Rapid DNA, a newly commercialized technology developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), addresses these challenges by greatly expediting the testing of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that is the only biometric that can accurately verify family relationships. This technology can be used on the scene of mass fatality events, in refugee camps around the world, or at immigration office,” the DHS’s website reads.
An article in ProPublica warns that “over the last decade, collecting DNA from people who are not charged with — or even suspected of — any particular crime has become an increasingly routine practice for police.”
Congress enacted the “DNA Identification Act of 1994” authorizing the FBI to maintain a centralized, national DNA database and to develop a software system to allow for the sharing of information within and between states for law enforcement. By 2004, the resulting system – the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) – connected the databases of all fifty states, which at that time were limited to profiles from those convicted of serious, violent crimes. Signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 30, 2004, the “Justice For All Act” greatly expanded the CODIS system, allowing collection of DNA from all federal felons and further enabling states to upload to CODIS profiles from anyone convicted of a crime according to a secret congressional WikiLeaks document entitled: “DNA Evidence: Legislative Initiatives in the 106th Congress.”