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Transparency Report Shows Ancestry.com Rejected A Warrant Demanding Access To Its DNA Database

from the PREMISES-TO-BE-SEARCHED:-the-whole-thing dept

Third-party DNA services have become one of law enforcement's new investigative tools. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have collected massive amounts of DNA data and personal info, and cops have used these databases to solve cold cases and identify suspects they may have overlooked during investigations.

As this use of private DNA databases has become more widespread, some services have tightened up their access. Law enforcement started pushing and it was finally time to start pushing back. In addition to creating fake profiles to upload DNA samples to match against databases, law enforcement officers have also obtained court orders demanding full access to these databases to peruse at will.

One company, FamilyTreeDNA, has welcomed this new interest from non-customers, allowing government agencies to treat its database as one of their own. Most other DNA companies have gone the other way, restricting access to personal info and DNA matches by requiring legitimate, narrowly-crafted court orders and warrants before turning over info to law enforcement.

Ancestry.com is one of the more restrictive companies. Its "Guide for Law Enforcement" makes it clear it will challenge any court order or warrant it believes is overly-broad. The wording may seem a bit antagonistic, but it's probably the only language law enforcement understands. Law enforcement prefers to communicate vaguely and exoneratively, which lowers its exposure to harmful things like the rights of others and personal accountability. So, if Ancestry's language is brusque, it's only because it's necessary.

Ancestry does not voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement. To provide our Users with the greatest protection under the law, we require all government agencies seeking access to Ancestry customers’ data to follow valid legal process and do not allow law enforcement to use Ancestry’s services to investigate crimes or to identify human remains.

Some unnamed law enforcement agency recently experienced this lack of cooperation firsthand, as Peter Aldhous reports for BuzzFeed.

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.”

There are no further details in the transparency report, but comments given to BuzzFeed by Ancestry suggest the warrant sought open-ended access to the company's database. That's definitely something companies shouldn't be offering to law enforcement agencies. The unnamed law enforcement agency will have to take its fishing line to a competitor more willing to abuse the trust of its customers.

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Filed Under: dna, law enforcement, privacy, transparency, warrant
Companies: ancestry.com


Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Bobvious, 6 Feb 2020 @ 5:00am

    FamilyTreeDNA:"We for one welcome our new ancestry overlords"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKx3JlTnHbc

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 5:04am

    remain calm

    If you're touching a keyboard or mouse right now, either Microsoft, Apple, or Google also has your DNA.
    'I keed...I keed'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Falanx, 6 Feb 2020 @ 5:23am

    Doesn't look even slightly antagonistic. Looks like not being cowardly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 6:21am

    Hint

    Dont give them the data in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 12:36pm

    That's cool. Someone as creepy as the cops, withholding their hoard from the cops. The outcome is certainly positive, but that doesn't make ancestry.com (or their sibling companies) any less creepy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Grimes, 6 Feb 2020 @ 2:48pm

    I have personally spoken to the owner of Family Tree DNA (ftdna) several times and he has always indicated that they would vigorously fight subpoenas. He soecifically indicated that the type of subpoena used against gedmatch would be ineffective against his company. This is right from the horse's mouth. They are not in the law enforcement business, but individuals can opt to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 3:12pm

    Why is the Mormon Church collecting massive amounts of DNA family data?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2020 @ 5:45pm

      Re:

      To baptise you in absentia to save your soul. The genealogy of others is due to this. The rest just stems from their own "collect it all" mentality, bordering on a personality disorder, developed from obsessively collecting full names to baptise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kristina Vanlerberghe, 11 May 2020 @ 9:05pm

    Who are you

    Yeah.. Who the fuck are you anyways? Nothing but a program coming to it's stupid end with all it's bad definitions. So, are you gonna tell me that you had a lot of fine programmers working hard on ancestry? Bullshit. You're a part of the evil schema trying to decode human beings. Who the fuck cares what we are? It's what WE BELIEVE! TRY that one on computer. You're only hardware in the long run and I HATE HARDWARE

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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