Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

DNA Testing in an Uproar


Last year we learned that GEDmatch opened its Terms of Service to explicitly support law enforcement submitting tests to compare with others in their database in order to use DNA to match family members of those who committed violent crime as well as those who are unidentified victims of crime. Actually, GEDmatch learned that LE was already doing it, decided it was a Good Thing, and changed the terms to be more explicit about it.

I deleted all of my tests from their database.

Now FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) was “found out” to be allowing the same thing, having changed their Terms of Service without notifying its customer base, and many folks are livid. Not because we are criminals or don’t want law enforcement to solve crimes, but because the issues of privacy and lack of consent have been ignored by a company that we trusted.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has written some very articulate blog posts explaining the FTDNA issues. She’s not the only one, but I always find her to be clear, logical, and informed. Read these:

I totally get that databases of DNA samples voluntarily submitted by millions of people looking for cousins or ethnicity background created a perfect resource for them to match additional samples taken from crime scenes. I didn’t put my DNA in that database for the government, and I do not trust for one minute that what starts as a simple test for matches to autosomal DNA could open the floodgates (to use Judy’s imagery) to other government hunting. And we would have no idea and could not stop it.

I was lucky to have been able to tests my parents’ DNA, pushing me back a generation. But honestly, I haven’t found a lot of relatives. Most of my matches don’t bother to answer emails or initiate them themselves. But most importantly now, my brother, who shares that DNA with me, does not want it to stay accessible. At all. Which means deleting tests from people who are gone and cannot give those cheek swabs again. And the loss of money and possibilities. But I share his concern.

Right now my FTDNA kits are set to “no match” which basically makes them unfindable for the purpose I tested in the first place. One of my cousins, whose test I manage, is fine with keeping it open and I’ll make that change. For the others, I want to output reports and match lists – at least to people who still have matching turned on – before I delete my tests completely. I’m ready to go to MyHeritage, 23andMe, and LivingDNA to do the same thing. I don’t trust them, either.

We tested at Ancestry.com before anywhere else, and I’ve asked my brother to let me keep those kits, at least for now while we see how things shake out. It may be that I can’t keep that, either, but I really would hate to lose everything. On the other hand, I’ve had 10 years to play in the sandbox and fill holes in my tree as I worked with DNA results.

My brother was concerned about all of this from the beginning. Maybe I was naive not to be, and I know I was caught up in the fun and excitement of new tools for genealogy after decades of traditional research. But I’m older and wiser now and I don’t want to put my DNA or that of people I love in the position for any government misuse or abuse.

2 thoughts on “DNA Testing in an Uproar

  1. I do not agree with everything you say but I do try and keep an open mind about this issue. While I do see the case for some concerns about this issue I see no need to delete my test. I have made great discoveries through my DNA testing as have many people. Perhaps lawmakers can put safe guards in so we are protected and law enforcement still can make use of this tool to catch dangerous criminals. As you know this is a many sided issue.

  2. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love
    by Dani Shapiro

    You might have seen this. In middle of it right now. Well written. Timely topic. Very interesting.

    I am listening to it on Audible, read by the author. Very well read too.

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