DNA testing company gives FBI access to data

FamilyTreeDNA shares its DNA data in the US with authorities, who request access in the fight against crime. The company admits that. FamilyTreeDNA, which focuses on genealogy, is one of several companies that offer consumer DNA testing.

The Houston-based company already gave the FBI access to its databases last year, without notifying users. BuzzFeed News reported about this last week, and on Sunday, the CEO of FamilyTreeDNA confirmed the report, according to the NYT, in an email addressed to customers. In that email, the CEO apologizes for the lack of communication.

At the same time, he defends the move to grant the FBI access: “We’ve had an incredible amount of support from those who believe this is an opportunity for honest, law-abiding citizens to catch bad guys.”

The company points out that the terms and conditions state that authorities can enforce access to the databases with a search warrant or subpoena. Without those orders, they can also access data, according to the company, but only that data that a FamilyTreeDNA user has access to by default. This therefore concerns access that FamilyTreeDNA voluntarily offers to the FBI.

On request, the company prepares DNA profiles based on supplied samples, which the authorities can then upload to public DNA databases, in order to determine, for example, a victim’s family tree. “If we can prevent violent crime and save lives, we will,” said Bennett Greenspan, president of Gene-by-Gene Ltd. and FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA was founded in 2000 and is one of the largest services that allows consumers to have their DNA tested. After providing some cheek mucus, customers receive information about their origin for a fee. “Without realizing it, Greenspan has developed a platform that nearly twenty years later helps authorities solve violent crime faster than ever before,” the company says of its history.