When you take a commercial genetic test, you opt your whole family into warrantless state genetic surveillance

Cops are increasingly turning to commercial gene-testing services to solve crimes, using a process called “genetic genealogy” that uses the records of people who are near-matches for DNA from crime scenes to zero in on suspects; that’s how they caught the Golden State Killer, but cops don’t just ask genetics services for data when they’re after killers, sometimes they deputize these services to help them solve petty crimes.

Services like 23andme and Gedmatch are amassing titanic databases of genomes from the public and it only takes one person from your family to implicate everyone else they’re related to in police dragnets.

What’s more, the commercial services reserve the right to act unilaterally in sharing their data, and this “voluntary” sharing is effectively unregulated. Even where services let you opt out of having your DNA used by cops, your relatives may not be so conscientious, making your decision irrelevant.

Without legal limits, genetic genealogy will become a more popular tool for the police. Rather than wait for the courts to deal with difficult and novel issues about genetic surveillance and privacy, state legislatures and attorneys general should step in and articulate guidelines on how far their law enforcement agencies should go. Congress and the Federal Trade CommissionThe United States’ primary consumer protection agency, the F.T.C. collects complaints about companies, business practices and identity theft under the F.T.C. Act and other laws. The agency brings actions under Section 5 of the F.T.C. Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices. GlossaryClose X should take further steps to protect the privacy and security of consumer genetic data.

Want to See My Genes? Get a Warrant [Elizabeth Joh/New York Times]

(via Marginal Revolution)

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)

 

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