A Court Tried To Force Ancestry.com To Open Up Its DNA Database To Police. The Company Said No.

From an article by Peter Aldhous in the BuzzFeed News web site:

“Ancestry.com, the largest DNA testing company in the world, was served a search warrant to give police access to its database of some 16 million DNA profiles, but the company did not comply.

“Ancestry received one request seeking access to Ancestry’s DNA database through a search warrant,” the company revealed in its 2019 transparency report released last week. “Ancestry challenged the warrant on jurisdictional grounds and did not provide any customer data in response.”

“[Ancestry] told BuzzFeed News by email, adding: ‘The warrant was improperly served on Ancestry and we did not provide any access or customer data in response. Ancestry has not received any follow up from law enforcement on this matter.’”

You can read the full story in the BuzzFeed News web site at: http://bit.ly/2Upw6Ji.

22 Comments

Law enforcement in Pennsylvania wants to usurp control over Ancestry’s property. It really doesn’t matter how helpful it might be in settling cases quickly. It’s a matter of taking ownership away from the rightful owners. Let alone being a philosophically bad idea, it also would likely damage Ancestry’s ability to stay competitive in its own market. Customers would object.
Convenience of the government does not trump natural God-given rights to private property and how it’s used by the owners.

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Sorry, but a court order is a court order. DNA is no different than a blood type or fingerprints. With out court order, no.Withvalid court order,yes. It is a search warrant.

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    I agree with your view

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    The thing with a court order to give up blood, fingerprints, or DNA – the state has to demonstrate that there is good cause to believe someone (a specific person) is a suspect in order to obtain those things from that person. It’s not giving investigators blanket access to everyone’s fingerprints, or a database of everyone’s blood type. It is VERY DIFFERENT from the state access to a database that was created by others, for a purpose other than solving crimes.
    I agree that using DNA can “prevent false convictions, unjustified convictions, long unjustified prison sentences, or worse yet, executions of innocent people.” But I’m not sure how your justification here relates to how genealogical DNA databases are specifically used. If they have DNA from a crime to use for comparison, and they have a suspect, they can go through the proper measures/courts to get a DNA sample from the specific suspect. I may be wrong, but a genealogical database comes in handy when they have DNA from a crime, but they don’t have a suspect (or no concrete suspect) to compare it to. Access to a genealogical database helps them narrow down, or can provide a lead.
    It’s fine that you want to give up your rights to your property so freely, but don’t expect the same of the rest of us. I don’t have anything to “worry about”, but that doesn’t mean I would freely turn over my rights to the state, or invite them to trample your rights. Not without a fight.
    Perhaps someone could set up some voluntary database on behalf of the state and people could CHOOSE to submit their DNA for this purpose?

    Liked by 1 person

I agree with a valid court order search warrant. I have no problem with this. DNA does not lie like individuals do. If searching DNA helps to solve horrible crimes in the COLD CASE file then so be it. I have a hard time understanding why someone would not want to help solve cold case crimes.. If, personally, you haven’t done anything suspicious, then you should have no worries.

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The full article does not elaborate on what Ancestry meant by “improperly served” but there may be legal contingencies that we’re not aware of. The same article indicates that only GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA have been open to law enforcement. A MyHeritage spokesperson was quoted as saying “Our position is that MyHeritage does not cooperate with law enforcement.”

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    Neither do sanctuary cities and states – We need to cooperate with ICE to protect our safety. A court order is a court order – as long as it is valid, MyHeritage needs to re-think its philosophy. Solving crimes through DNA is not different than blood types or fingerprints. Using DNA can prevent false convictions, unjustified convictions, long unjustified prison sentences, or worse yet, executions of innocent people.

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Carol Menges It is quite legal for police departments to take people’s private property if they are merely suspected of committing a crime. It’s called Civil Asset Forfeiture or, more commonly, “policing for profit”. Google it.

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If assets are gained illegally, then they don’t belong to you. And personally I am shocked at MyHeritage’s statement of, “Our position is that MyHeritage does not cooperate with law enforcement.” It is not a sanctuary entity. Perhaps a voluntary data base of those of us who don’t feel that way would be a start. We then can let the justice system sort out the rest through court orders. Good detective work won’t let a 40-person serial killer continue to kill or innocent persons falsely charged sentenced and perhaps executed. There are too many Innocent Project cases are being released after wrongful convictions. There was a case in Texas of a young man who may have been wrongly executed. One case like that is one too many for our justice system – we are a county who prides ourselves in protecting the innocent.

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    I don’t disagree with “assets gained illegally don’t belong to you”, but that is not how Civil Asset Forfeiture works. The state just has to suspect that you gained those assets illegally, seize them, and then it’s up to you to prove them wrong. Sorry – I feel that is absolute abuse of power. The burden of proof should be on the state.

    I understand that people are innocently convicted, and that is a travesty. How would a genealogical database help in a case like this? If they had the DNA from the crime, they could compare that to the suspect (or in this case the wrongly convicted) to prove that person did NOT commit the crime. They already have the information to exonerate the convicted, so what additional benefit does allowing the state access to a genealogical database provide in this example (other than potentially getting a lead on a person who did actually commit the crime)?

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    As an Israeli company, MyHeritage may contend that they aren’t subject to US law, but I agree, it seemed like a overly broad statement.

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It is one thing to get a court order for the DNA of Jane Doe, and entirely another to get a court order for the entire DNA database of a company like ancestry in order to see if the DNA of Jane Doe might be in there. It is also not legal in my opinion to get a court order for the entire DNA database of private companies in order for law enforcement to see if their collect samples match anyone in there.

Why are all of you so eager to give up your rights to privacy?

Liked by 1 person

“Our position is that MyHeritage does not cooperate with law enforcement.” They are trying to match DNA related to a case. Soon, DNA will be the same as blood samples, or fingerprints. Years ago, people probably feared both of those tests. Science marches on. Now there is the ability to match even our eyes. The case people are talking about was the killer of 40 – that is 40 – women here in the state of California – killer of 40 women. His killings would have gone on and on without his identification. Court orders are in order to assist that identification.

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    Science does march on, but science and our individual rights are two different things. Vaccines save lives, but I wouldn’t allow the government to forcibly inject you? We don’t allow the government just go fingerprint or draw blood samples from an entire neighborhood to try and solve a crime. The government can’t force a company to develop code to hack into their phone.
    What case are you referring to? The Golden Gate Killer (he may have killed 13, and raped nearly 50), but he apparently hasn’t been active for 35 years? This solved the crimes, but it wasn’t the reason the crimes stopped.
    Barbara – I apologize if it seems like I’m harping on you, but it really bothers me that you are so willing to throw my rights under the bus.

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There was not DNA testing at the time of that incident – science had not reached that point. My tests will be available to protect the innocent and search for the guilty. Court orders will look for the guilty. Even if they are found through my DNA What do you think they will do with information found through your DNA? The system will progress no matter what we think or feel.

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I think it’s a scam for cops who don’t want to pay Ancestry DNA’s fee to see if they have any kin out there. 😉

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Regardless of whether you think DNA testing services should or should not provide access to their databases to law enforcement, right now there is no legal precedent to force this, an no solid legal justification on which the judge could have issued such a warrant. Ancestry acted 100% appropriately by refusing to honor the court order, since the warrant was issued without regard to any standing law or higher-court finding. There have been no laws drafted and no federal judiciary reviews which would compel –or which would even allow– any DNA company to share their customer’s private data with any outside agency. Remember, this kind of warrant is issued by ONE judge based on a justification provided by police/D.A./etc – it is not the result of a trial or any kind of settled law.

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Perhaps now it the time for it to go to a higher court.

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