FamilyTree DNA, a home DNA testing site, has been widely criticized for working with the FBI without informing customers, but now it will give users the option to prevent law enforcement from accessing data.
In January, BuzzFeed News used FamilyTree DNA to allow law enforcement agencies to create a profile on their site using the DNA of an unresolved case. The agency then uses the profile to find possible matches in the company's genetic database. FamilyTree DNA can now be opted out of account for users created for this purpose in e-mail, as reported for the first time by New Scientist . Law enforcement agencies must take special steps to use the database, and customers who opt out can continue to match users of other law enforcement agencies on the site.
Last year, crimes committed using DNA databases increased. In particular, the law enforcement agency solved the Golden State Killer case in April by comparing the decades old crime scene DNA with the profile of GEDMatch, the public genealogy website. Investigators uploaded 37-year-old DNA to GEDMatch's fake account. The Golden State Killer did not have a profile, but the law enforcement found a DNA match of relatives who had enough to detain and arrest the suspect. Since then, family DNA tests have become more powerful and have been able to cover the entire population with a relatively small database.
Although GEDMatch is a public database, 23andMe and privacy concerns about how personal databases operated by Ancestry.com will be used raise privacy concerns. Both sites said they did not cooperate with law enforcement agencies, and FamilyTree DNA was the first known example of a private company working with law enforcement agencies.
Other studies have suggested that it is straightforward to make a bold declaration of "gene privacy" that people are willing to accept and not accept because it is a multi-faceted concept that can include different compromises. For example, some law enforcement agencies have DNA to solve crimes, but it is not good to share DNA with pharmaceutical companies. FamilyTree DNA's move acknowledges that it is important at least to let customers know what is being done with genetic data when continuing to identify what is ethical and not ethical.