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FBI Cosies Up To DNA Database Provider

The relationship between law enforcement and genealogical DNA databases got a little closer in January, when DNA-based genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA said that it was working with the FBI to give it access to customer data.

FamilyTreeDNA announced that it has a formal relationship with the FBI to use its database of DNA fingerprints in tracking down suspects.

Under the arrangement, the FBI will provide DNA samples to parent company Gene-by-Gene, which analyses consumer DNA samples for the FamilyTreeDNA service. The DNA profile can then be uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA’s database and used to help piece together a suspect’s family tree.

FamilyTreeDNA isn’t providing any more information to the FBI than it would to any other FamilyTree user, the company explained.

Regular customers who upload their own DNA profiles get access to the database of over 1 million profiles, which can help them to build out their own family trees. However, most of them uploaded this information without realising that the FBI would subsequently have access.

“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,” said Bennett Greenspan, president of FamilyTreeDNA and sister company Gene By Gene in the company’s online statement. “In order for the FBI to obtain any additional information, they would have to provide a valid court-order such as a subpoena or search warrant."

The company has changed its terms of service to support the new arrangement, rewriting a straightforward ban on law enforcement usage to this:

“You agree to not use the services for law enforcement purposes unless the DNA Sample submitted or Genetic Information supplied was obtained and authorized by law enforcement to either: (1) identify a perpetrator of a violent crime, as defined in 18 U.S. Code § (924) (e) (2) (B), against another individual, including sexual assault, rape, and homicide; or (2) identify the remains of a deceased individual;”

FamilyTreeDNA has worked with the FBI before, when the agency subpoenaed it to provide information as part of the Golden State killer case.

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