Ancestry DNA Privacy Concerns: Is Your DNA Data Being Shared with Police?

dna data
By Ben Hartwig
07 January, 2019

You may have heard in the news lately how at least a few serial killer and cold cases have been solved using familial DNA recovered from testing services across the country. What does this mean to you, and how does it affect your privacy? Well, this is a very simple question with a very complicated answer…

Familial DNA is a fancy name for code that connects you with other members of your family. In other words, if you have your DNA tested, there will be information in your personal DNA code that matches at least parts of that of other members of your family.

These recently solved cases have utilized DNA evidence and matched it to familial DNA found in public databases from testing companies, telling investigators that someone related to the owner of that DNA code committed the crime. From there, they determine if the person has any siblings or parents that match that part of the DNA that is the same, thereby leading them to the prime suspect in the crime in question.

What Are Ancestry DNA Tests?

Ancestry DNA tests are often used to help people find their lineage history, any unknown relatives that are living and even help determine if they have any predisposition to certain diseases. Sometimes these tests are used solely to determine if a person carries the gene for a certain disease, such as breast cancer. Other times, people are just curious about what they can find out about where their family originally settled, where they possibly immigrated from and what types of gene pools eventually made up their DNA code.

For example, someone may do one of these tests to determine if their family truly originated from Eastern Europe, but discover that more of their DNA code originated from South America. Each one of our DNA codes is truly unique from each other, and often contain a wide variety of DNA strains from around the world.

How Do You Take the Test?

Ancestry DNA tests are kits that allow you to simply spit some of your salivae into a test tube to send to the lab. After 6-8 weeks, test results are sent back to you with a full ancestry report. This report will help you build a family tree, discover your ethnicity and even connect with living relatives. It will also help you trace your ancestors’ migration to where you live now.

Is the DNA Test Data Public?

According to their website, the Ancestry DNA test is totally private and your information is never shared. You can also request to have your results and test sample destroyed. The sample and test results are also stored without your personal identifying information, so it can never be connected directly to you.

However, there is a disclosure that states this information is never shared unless it is “legally required.”

As part of their Privacy Statement, Ancestry DNA discloses that your information will be shared if it is necessary to “comply with valid legal processes,” which includes subpoenas and warrants. They do state that your information is never shared with insurance companies, employers or marketers without your consent.

What Does This Mean?

All of this privacy statement information means that in general, your information is not shared with anyone you don’t choose to share it with (such as living relatives that are discovered). However, the power of a subpoena or warrant for results would require Ancestry DNA to release your information to law enforcement and possibly end up linked to crime evidence. If you or anyone you’re related to has committed a crime where DNA was recovered, this is exactly how they would make the connection and find a suspect.

Moral of the story is if you never, ever want your DNA information shared with law enforcement or any other person or party, you should steer clear of these tests. There is no end in sight to how advanced these tests will get, and even a security breach or changes in the privacy statement can affect how your results and samples are used over time. The only guarantee is to stick to old research methods of poring over family records, public records and talking to as many of your family members as you can.

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