How a Legal Brawl Between Two Rich Guys Could Change How We Think About DNA

Warning: I had to read this article several times before I understood it. To say it is a twisted tale is an understatement. I am still not certain I understand all of it. The story involves a lawsuit that could only happen in Florida. Yet it could also set a precedent that will alter laws about DNA nationwide.

Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom and Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter were locked in an absurd suburban skirmish, bickering over who should run the tennis center at Sloan’s Curve, the exclusive Palm Beach waterfront community where both men resided. The legal battle took a rather unexpected turn when the lawyers for Peerenboom surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from a water bottle that both Mr. and Mrs. Perlmutter had used inside the courtroom.

In 2016, the Perlmutters countersued Peerenboom, his attorney, and the forensic lab for “conversion.” Conversion is roughly the civil court equivalent of theft. The Perlmutters were alleging that Peerenboom and his attorney had effectively stolen their DNA and the information contained within the DNA sample.

“By collecting analyzing and testing genetic material to obtain the Perlmutter’s confidential genetic information, conspirators exercise an act of dominion and authority that deprives the Perlmutters’ of their right to ownership, possession, control, and privacy,” the initial countersuit read. In this case, the “right to ownership, possession, control, and privacy” refers to their DNA information.

But wait… there’s more.

In January 2017, Judge Meenu Sasser agreed to let the claim continue and wrote, “The Perlmutters plainly retain intangible rights to their genetic information,” she wrote, adding, “At the very least, one possesses important privacy interests in such information.”

“A lot of people say that by recognizing a property right in our genetics, we’re on the slippery slope of commodifying human beings,” said Jessica Roberts, the director of the University of Houston Health Law and Policy Institute, “and that your genetic data is too precious to be property.”

Depending how this case winds its way through the courts, it may or may not agree that each person has a right to keep his or her own their genetic data private. This could have a huge effect on web sites such as GEDmatch, 23andMe, Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and others. However, don’t expect a final resolution anytime soon.

You can read the full article by Kristen V. Brown in the Gizmodo web site at http://bit.ly/2yb0oGc.

8 Comments

I have to believe that police departments and prosecuting attorneys will get involved with the appeal process. It would seriously “handcuff” their investigations and convictions.

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I have given the DNA testing matter some thoughts since I read the articles about the police using an open source DNA website to match the DNA from crime scenes.

Is my genetic code mine exclusively?

I received my genetic code from my parents, as did my siblings. My parents received their genetic code from their parents. I share genetic code with my siblings, and also my aunts, uncles and cousins whether we have a 1st, 2nd or 10th degree relationship. If we “share” genetic code, does that mean any one of us holds exclusive rights to the genetic code? And if no one has exclusive rights to the genetic code, and a relative (of any degree) were to post it online, whether on an open source website or a private one, do I have the right to ask or demand that the results of the DNA test be removed from that website?

I see a lot of litigation occurring in the future because of the legal ramifications of DNA testing. The laws and regulations governing this area are currently so far behind, and I don’t that they will catch up any time soon.

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Why? I mean how on earth was the Perlmutters’ DNA supposed to advance Peerenboom’s case?

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Websites like those mentioned receive consent by the act of my entering my DNA information into their websites. The difference in this case is that the DNA was gathered without consent. I don’t see a problem at this point.

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I have attended several classes on DNA by a variety of experts. As I understand it no one has exactly the same DNA other than an identical twin. Many people are going to have some of the same but not all … you get your DNA half from each parent but not one fourth from each grandparent, it varies. This is why my husband is 82% Irish but his brother is only 71% when both are actually 75% by place of birth of all eight great grandparents. Even if you keep your own results private, the part shared by first, second, third cousins can’t be private … too many people, too many unknown people. Anyone not overjoyed to see the murderer-rapist caught through a distant cousin’s DNA needs to rethink their priorities, What is more important, your privacy or your wife or daughter being raped and murdered?

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This is not related to this article — but just before this article I have SEVERAL pages of nothing – blank pages. Am I missing some stories or is the just space left to add more?

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