FamilyTreeDNA, a popular at-home DNA test, is working with the FBI to help the agency solve violent crimes, the company acknowledged in a statement released this week. The policy appears to go beyond the privacy rules generally laid out by other major DNA testing companies.
BuzzFeed News first reported on the FamilyTreeDNA policy. The company told the outlet it had cooperated with the agency in less than 10 cases.
In its statement, the company said the laboratory that performs DNA tests for FamilyTreeDNA, as well as others, has been accepting samples from the DNA to identify suspects and human remains. The laboratory is also owned by FamilyTreeDNA president Bennett Greenspan.
The laboratory has been working with the FBI by generating “data profiles” from law enforcement evidence samples. Officials can then upload that sample to databases, including FamilyTreeDNA, and search for possible matches.
The FBI doesn’t have free rein over the genetic database, the company said. “We came to the conclusion that if law enforcement created accounts, with the same level of access to the database as the standard FamilyTreeDNA user, they would not be violating user privacy and confidentiality,” Greenspan said in a statement. To obtain any information beyond that would require a legal order, the statement said.
DNA testing has aided law enforcement in some high-profile cases, including by tracking down the suspected Golden State Killer through a publicly accessible genetic database. Generally, though, private DNA testing companies have pledged to resist working with law enforcement, and voluntarily aiding officials could raise concerns from privacy advocates.
“If we can help prevent violent crimes and save lives or bring closure to families, then we’re going to do that,” Greenspan said in the statement. “We’re going to do it within a framework that continues to ensure that the privacy of our customers, which has been paramount to us since day one and remains so today, is protected to the greatest degree possible.”