Your Genealogy Research Could Land Your DNA Results in a Criminal Investigation

Just to clarify, the title above does not mean that YOU would be the subject of a criminal investigation. However, your DNA test could result in a criminal investigation into the activities of a family member or other relative.

Millions of people have submitted DNA samples to companies, including to Ancestry.com, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, Living DNA, and others. The websites allow customers to find out where their ancestors came from. However, an article in the KIRO-TV web site suggests that your DNA data could be used for other purposes.

Law enforcement could get access to your DNA profile to solve a violent crime involving a close relative of yours.

The article is a bit sensationalist, emphasizing one very small negative in what I believe to be a testing process that is filled with lots of positive stories. Nonetheless, you might want to think about this a bit before submitting a DNA sample. If so, please read the article at: http://kiro.tv/2iDXgHP.

Is it possible that one of your relatives committed a violent crime? If so, do you want to help identify him or her?

I will give you my answer: “If one of my relatives committed a despicable violent crime, I would want him or her to be identified, arrested, and tried. That’s true regardless of our blood relationship. Criminals everywhere need to be apprehended and tried in a court of law.”

I have already submitted DNA samples to four different DNA companies and I probably will do so again if new genealogy testing companies appear. I will not hesitate. If my DNA helps prove that a relative of mine is a criminal, then he or she deserves to face a judge and jury.

However, I realize that other people might not agree with my thoughts. Some people might want to hide certain facts.

I suggest you should think about this to determine how you feel, then make up your own mind.

12 Comments

Dick, I agree whole-heartedly. If I knew a relative of mine did a despicable crime, I consider it my civil responsibility to aid in the investigation. If I didn’t know of such a crime, but my DNA provides enough evidence to convict with substantive other real evidence ( perhaps obtained after the DNA links are followed ) so be it. Ultimately we all want to reduce crime and DNA evidence should be as part of the deduction process.

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Many family searchers dove right in and submitted DNA samples for quick genealogical solutions without considering such repercussions. Other considerations are: After submission, who owns your DNA sample? Where are DNA results stored? Can hackers access and/or *alter* your DNA results to the detriment of you, or your family? Similar questions can be posed about the ownership of your social media posts and family trees.
Nothing is more intimate than one’s DNA, but folks pay to give it away. As for me, I’ll dig deeper before I turning my lederhosen for a kilt!

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In my opinion your article is quite opinionated and oriented: nobody would refuse if the police asked them to give a DNA sample or use the one they submitted to the companies you mentioned, in order to help to identify a criminal who might be a relative of them.
However I cannot accept the fact that my DNA sample could be used for purposes other than genealogy and research WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE.
You will probably reply that when submitting a DNA sample to a company, you agree with the terms of the contract they provide you with. However, once you have given your DNA sample, this contract may be altered in an unsatisfactory way for you, but the company still ‘owns’ your sample, so it is too late… I share the same opinion and questions with MizScarlettNY. We never know if in future those DNA samples might once be used for eugenics too, perhaps on government’s request…
If those DNA companies warned me before using my sample for police enquiries and such, with the possibility to opt out (and even have my DNA sample destroyed), it would not be as much as a problem.
In France, so far there have not been any such DNA companies because it is illegal for purposes other than criminal investigation. I will wait until the law is amended, in the hope that if French DNA companies are allowed one day, their terms of use will be stricter and more protective of their submitters’ privacy.

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    Cooperating with a criminal investigation is a separate topic and has nothing to do with one’s patriotism or belief in justice.
    In light of the recent Equifax security breach, and online tampering with federal personnel records [See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/07/09/hack-of-security-clearance-system-affected-21-5-million-people-federal-authorities-say/?utm_term=.c04116b480e3%5D one has to be naive to assume that their DNA submissions are forever safe, and retain their *authentic* characteristics.
    Folks PAY to submit their precious DNA samples to faceless entities? It isn’t like their personal physicians are hands-on processing it for medical purposes or insights. Hey, just beta test DNA sampling on Americans. We’ll buy it, especially if it’s on sale. How soon we forgot about the 2008 financial recession and weighing if we want something or need it.
    And another thing. There’s more assuming going on. Assumptions that if your DNA collection company misuses or abuses your DNA that you can sue in a court of law. OK. Let’s consider this is possible, even in a small claims court. There’s a deeper assumption
    that judges understand the ramification of DNA outcomes. Do you even fully understand your own DNA outcomes?
    Example: Years ago, I hired a local, so-called PC expert to clean up my PC. It was returned with my genealogical research destroyed, all the research I was using for my MA thesis. The grandfatherly judge never used a PC, nor did he understand computer issues. He ruled on behalf of the local merchant.
    I’m not trading in my lederhosen for a kilt…until my paper trail documents Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The buck stops here!
    Barb
    MizScarlettNY@aol.com

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This is an older article on the 23&Me blog regarding DNA and criminal cases: https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-and-you/23andprivacy-your-data-law-enforcement/
From a legal standpoint, I have always thought that it would be difficult to prove chain of custody when submitting DNA data from a public site that uses a “by mail” submission method. I would think it would be easier to disprove in the case of a false arrest or false match. I understand people’s nervousness, but I think we will see emerging restrictions on this in the future.

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There are some very important points that have not been mentioned here that may serve to reduce people’s concerns about this kind of DNA testing. First, while DNA samples and the corresponding limited results produced by genealogy-oriented DNA testing companies may be used to help law enforcement authorities identify potential criminals, those DNA samples and results cannot be used to prove anyone’s guilt since there is no “chain-of-control” regarding the original DNA sample. There may be a chain-of-control once the DNA sample is received at the lab, but there is certainly none before that. In fact, a clever criminal who was concerned about being identified by DNA could send in anyone’s DNA to one of these labs and say it belonged to his or her relative, just to lead law enforcement authorities astray. Second, most DNA tests that are done by these labs do not uniquely identify the supposed DNA sample’s owner since not enough alleles (DNA markers) are tested. In many cases, even someone else who has a perfect DNA match with the original DNA sample’s owner may not be related to that person. Also, for a majority of these tests, the original DNA sample is discarded after testing, and cannot even be retested for accuracy.

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For the other side of the coin, it could also disprove that you or your relative were criminals.

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    They don’t need you for that, you relative can give a sample themselves. Presumably they have DNA left at a crime scene and are looking for matches to narrow their list of possible suspects. If they have already arrested someone, I think they can force a DNA sample. I’m a great worrier, this doesn’t worry me much.

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And then there is another issue we have already seen in which account administrators or those posing as admins unethically accessed information from these DNA testing companies to “help” law enforcement.

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My son is in computer security. I now know more than I’d ever hoped to know about how fragile our computer systems are. And, honestly, it troubles me to see how easy it is for our personal information to be obtained by folks who shouldn’t have it.
I refuse to provide my personal information to a company that: 1) I have no idea where they’re located; 2) therefore I can’t walk into their offices and talk to a real live person in charge in case there’s a problem; 3) I have no idea about how effective their security systems are and where they keep my records and backups; 4) I don’t know what their policy is toward providing my DNA and personal information to police, courts, the government, or anyone else, for that matter); and 5) I have no idea what will happen to my information should the company go out of business or be sold.
Yes, giving them my DNA would probably help my research. But, as the saving goes, better safe than sorry.

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I agree with you totally. Dick EASTMAN

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If they need a DNA why don’t they just ask the person they are investigating. It should not be up to you to do their work for them. If your DNA is the same they are looking for won’t that make you a possibilty for the one who did the crime!!??

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