DNA

CORRECTION: Ancestry.com Hands Over Client DNA Test Results to Cops Witho?u?t? a Warrant*

A pretty good way to discourage people from using gene testing services

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AncestryPolice
freethoughtproject

My wife is a happy client of the genealogy company Ancestry.com. It's a terrific genealogical resource. For example, my wife confirmed the family story that our particular branch of the Baileys derives from an illegitimate boy born to my 4-times removed great-grandmother Tazzie Bailey in the 1840s.

Ancestry.com also offers a $99 gene-testing service that aims to map your ethnicity. As it happens, we gave my father-in-law a gene-testing kit for his birthday. When I expressed doubts that it would confirm his family legend of having Native American ancestors he challenged me to a bet. He still owes me $100. All-in-all we're pretty pleased with Ancestry.com's services.

So it is with considerable dismay that I read the Electronic Frontier Foundation's report which details how Ancestry.com turned over client genetic test results to police in Idaho without requiring a warrant. Reopening a 20-year old rape and murder case, the police sent a semen sample to be scanned and compared to results in Ancestry.com's Sorenson Database. EFF reports:

Sorenson found 41 potential familial matches, one of which matched on 34 out of 35 alleles—a very close match that would generally indicate a close familial relationship. The cops then asked, not only for the "protected" name associated with that profile, but also for all "all information including full names, date of births, date and other information pertaining to the original donor to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy project."

As it happens, familial genetic matching turned up a 62 year-old client who didn't fit the murderer's profile, but the police thought it could fit his son 36 year-old soon. The son was lured to Idaho where a warrant was issued requiring him to submit to genetic testing, partially on the grounds that as a filmmaker he had produced videos depicting murders. His DNA did not match.

AncestryDNA.com's Privacy Statement says:

AncestryDNA will not disclose any of your personal information to third parties except in very limited circumstances which are set out below. … Examples of the limited scenarios where AncestryDNA may disclose your personal information to third parties are:…(c) as may be required by law, regulatory authorities,or legal process….

Surely, "as may be required by law" means that AncestryDNA should at least demand that the police produce a warrant before turning over their clients' data. See below for Correction.

As a genetic exhibitionist who has posted his genotype screening test results online, I will have only myself to blame if the police decide to use that information against me in some way. However, private genetic testing services had better keep their customers' data private and safe, or soon they may have no clients.

Disclosure: My wife has had her DNA tested by AncestryDNA. So far as we know, she has not yet been implicated in any murders.

Via PoliceZero.

*Correction: The sequence of events is that the Idaho police asked Sorenson Forensics Lab (not affiliated with Ancestry.com) to match Y chromosome genetic data from the crime scene semen sample with Y chromosome data in the public Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation database owned by Ancestry.com. Anyone can obtain access by joining the Sorenson genealogical database, but the identities associated with the genetic data are not public. The police did not get a warrant at to match the semen sample with genetic database. Once a match was made, the Idaho police did obtain a warrant requiring Ancestry.com to release the name associated with the Y chromosome data. Details are in this warrant.

Ancestry.com sent this statement: The genetic information provided by our DNA customers is personal and we have strict standards in place to protect their identities and the integrity of their data. These standards are our first priority. On occasion when required by law to do so, and in this instance we were, we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested but we don't comment on the specifics of cases.

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  1. What is it with Mormons and their excessive deference to police? No wonder cops are insane in Utah.

    1. Whoa whoa… Punching down are we? You inciting the 7th Day Adventists into a shooting spree?

    2. Well they did get historically get cowed into submission by the feds.

      1. All they wanted was marriage equality.

    3. Maybe something like this happened to them:

      You ain’t legalizing none that mareequaner round here!

      His father, John Chaffetz, was Jewish and his mother was a Christian Scientist. Chaffetz converted from Judaism to Mormonism during his last year of college.

      1. Damn! I thought I was the only one who had Jew-convert-to-Mormon DNA.

        I guess I am not so special after all. 🙁

        I still got Grandma Witch, however. And Johnny Cash

    4. I’m an ex-Mormon who grew up in Utah. The core idea of the faith is Obedience to authority. So many times you’ll hear in Sunday School that obedience is the first law of heaven. Everything in the Mormon church revolves around obedience. So it doesn’t come as a shock to me that Mormons don’t even think to look twice at what LEOs are doing, they just support it, because obedience to authority — knowing that the authority is right, even if it looks wrong –is drilled into your head from day one.

      Take, for example, this beautiful quote from a past Mormon prophet:
      “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” — Heber J. Grant

      1. You forgot to capitalize “Prophet”. It’s insulting if you don’t.

        1. No, they only refer to Joseph Smith as “the Prophet”. All subsequent church presidents are just “prophets”.
          Source: I read the church’s monthly magazine for many years, and paid attention to their formatting style.

          1. Do they add “(pbuh)” after mentioning Smith’s name? (I note that Joseph Smith and Muhammad both forbade alcohol, while reserving the right to take as many wives for themselves as they wanted.)

      2. Thanks Riesen. This was helpful. I guess it’s just so foreign to me.

      3. Why do you think the mormons are so dead against gays? Because if you can be talked in such a batshit crazy religion some gay sex is easy.

        1. Because no kidz. No celestial kingdom for you. Don’t you want to be a god too?

      4. They sure weren’t very obedient to the authority of the federal government in the mid-19th century. President Buchanan had to send an army to Utah to whip them into line.

    5. Yea, you would have thought an extermination order issued by the State of Missouri would have been a wake up call.

  2. Has anyone find Lizzie Warrens’ native American ancestors on there yet?

    1. Has anyone find

      What, you think you’re a Reason editor now?

      1. No. I think that there’s NO FUCKING EDIT FEATURE!!!

    2. Have her lick an envelope. All one needs is a wee bit of spit

  3. “Reopening a 20-year old rape and murder case, the police sent a semen sample to be scanned and compared to results in Ancestry.com’s Sorenson Database.”

    Somehow, it seems like it might be better if they didn’t get a warrant–because now it’s just a commercial transaction and maybe a violation of whatever that company calls their terms of service.

    A warrant or subpoena to get a specific suspect’s DNA is probably easy to get.

    Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I’d like to think a local judge in Idaho wouldn’t sign a warrant to search millions of people’s DNA just to find a suspect.

    Incidentally, when I was a little kid growing up outside of DC, they once took us on a field trip to the FBI headquarters. They had a whole program for elementary kids, where you’d get to see a real crime lab, and then they let us fingerprint ourselves.

    I figure parents are smart enough not to let their kids be fingerprinted by the FBI, right? For all I know, maybe they pitch it as a service to parents to help combat kidnapping.

    1. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I’d like to think a local judge in Idaho wouldn’t sign a warrant to search millions of people’s DNA just to find a suspect.

      You are kidding yourself.

      For example, Two Stories About The Criminal Justice System And Consequences

        1. Thanks PS, I copied wrong.

    2. Wasn’t it Fairfax County that just got caught last year holding onto thousands of genetic samples from cleared suspects? It was a great place to grow up but…

    3. Judges are some of the dumbest puppets on earth. They are simply the largest most odorous turd to float to the top of the legal cesspool. Can’t expect them to even be able to sign their name without help.

  4. (c) as may be required by law, regulatory authorities,or legal process….

    I guess “required” is just a synonym for “requested” in this context.

    1. See, in the health care world, “required by legal process” means a frickin’ warrant.

      And no, the cops don’t count as regulatory authorities, either.

      1. Must be a legal process then. It’s a process, and we assume it’s legal…

      2. “Required” is the operative word. I go one step further when I draft contracts and use the word “compelled.”

  5. I know this misses the point of the article, and it’s one I’m interested in since 23andme has my genetic profile in their database, but if it wasn’t his son, who was it? A match likely to be a son could also be a parent, or sibling, and not much else, right?

    1. I also have my genetic profile in 23andme.com. Given our screen names, maybe we’re related. :-p

      1. Distant cousins. I believe the Crabs broke from the original Apple line back in the old country. 🙂

    2. … let’s see. Consider only two possibilities for each allele (way low, probably, but we are spitballing here). So, 2 ^ 24 would mean 1 out of every 16 million people would be an exact 24-set match, about twice that many would be a 23-set match. So, 50 random strangers in the good ol’ US of A. Most alleles have more than two expressions, but they also cluster something crazy, too … you ever see a correlation between pale skin, freckles and red hair? So, if anything, it probably speaks to ancestry.com not having nearly as many signups (and DNA) as they advertise, else they would have managed to produce a perfect match or three.

      And if you don’t think people have been jailed or executed on the basis of a single piece of infallible evidence, then you need to go read Radley Balko for a bit. Make sure you have a cup, first.

      1. Okay, I read the article further and I was assuming they were matching two samples on autosomal dna, but since one sample is semen, that would be impossible (I think). I don’t know a shit ton about dna, but it makes a little more sense now.

    3. A match likely to be a son could also be a parent, or sibling, and not much else, right?

      Considering they said 35 alleles (CODIS is 26), I’m assuming they were looking at hereditary alleles that are less than uniquely identifiable.

      This guy has blond hair and blue eyes from family tree/race X and his hirsutism and detached earlobe genes from family tree/race Y.

      But all my genetics work is passingly associated with forensics, at best.

  6. What’s funny is, there are all kinds of legal protections for genetic data, but they apply to the private sector (health care and insurance).

    So, your doctor has to jump through hoops to get your genetic info to treat you, and your insurance company has to jump through hoops to get your genetic info to underwrite you, but the cops can just send an email and say “Cough it up. Cough it all up.”

    Say, whatever happened to that expectation of privacy, anyway?

  7. Can’t wait for 46 & 2…

    1. In my mind, the best song Tool ever did.

      1. Pushit. But 46 & 2 is probably 2nd best musically.

      2. What, you’re not a big fan of anal fisting?

        1. Isn’t that what every Tool song is about?

        2. Ow!

  8. “Via PoliceZero.”

    Heh, the anti-PoliceOne?

    Also, any of you who has beenin the Armed Forces in the past…long while, don’t fret, I am sure DoD’s genetic samples are all safe. Remember that “in case we have to identify your remains” justification?

    1. The only thing keeping me from fulfilling my dreams of becoming a criminal kingpin after I retire is the knowledge that my DNA is on file at Ft. Detrick and accessible to, I assume, everyone who has a CAC and can dig the hyperlink out of the convoluted websites.

  9. Only the Guilty (and In-Valids) Have Reason to Fear

  10. I do find it ironic that HIPPA has probably cost private businesses *billions* annually, for decades, and been one of the most difficult and regulatory issues which medical services have to contend with…

    ….but all it takes is a cop to wave his hand, and suddenly none of that stuff makes the slightest bit of difference. Laws are for Little People.

    1. But it’s an exception! Just like getting prescription records when Officer Dunphy asks really nicely!

    2. Rule of Man, baby!

  11. I was thinking of getting my Mom this service. They just lost a potential customer.

    1. I’ve thought about using this service myself. Not now.

    2. My Mom does use this service. I’m less than pleased.

      1. Your mom is used as a pleasing service.

        1. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times. My Mom is a respectable lady.

          It’s my sister that’s the whore.

  12. The son was lured to Idaho

    How do you lure someone to Idaho?

      1. Idaho has plenty whitebread. If you like Asians, or Mexicans, or black chicks, or Indians, you are shit outta luck.

    1. Fred Schneider?

      Oh wait, I thought this was one of those “you know who else…” things.

    2. By telling them their alternative is France?

      Come on… Someone has to selectively maintain the regionalism!

    3. Boise State managed to do a pretty good job of it for a while.

  13. Depends, is it a hungry Irishman?

    1. In response to Hugh, sorry. Threading fail.

  14. So,they were looking for anyone that matches,maybe.Is this like a N.S.A. search ?Just look through every one’s info? And what made them think this company may have that D.N.A..And why would this company allow a random search? Oh,any why,with all that has happened would anyone willingly give their D.N.A. away to a website?

    1. Because $100 is a lot cheaper than what you would pay Labcorp for a single genetic screen

  15. If A.com was a doctor or health clinic this aould be a massive HIPAA violation. I wonder if this applies here.

    1. “would”
      Damnit

  16. “Disclosure: My wife has had her DNA tested by AncestryDNA. So far as we know, she has not yet been implicated in any murders.”

    I notice you didn’t mention anything about rapes.

  17. What else could be expected from corporate whores? Just the typical behavior of traitors running a scumbag crappy company. Hopefully they will be sued out of existence.

    The CEO should be personally charged for being a prostitute, since he obviously spends all his time on his knee’s servicing Koch’s for money.

  18. I always thought Ancestry.com could be used for nefarious reasons. But by the users, not by the police. Sort of like a Mormon version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

    Not shit, I think it would make a great Criminal Minds or CSI or something. For example, I found out my ancestor was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch trials and I thought it would make a good whodunnit as those descendants got revenge on the descendants of those who convicted and hung them – take THAT, Cotton Mather!
    Until I found out a different ancestor was a juror who convicted her. So, I’d just end up killing myself.

  19. The headlines of the EFF article (and thus yours) are false. The police used a commercial laboratory, Sorenson Genomics, to obtain markers on the Y chromosome (which typically follows the surname line, of interest to genealogists). Once they had the results, they consulted an OPEN ACCESS database, Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and looked for close matches. The database at http://smgf.org privatizes the most recent generations of ancestry. The police then submitted a warrant to Ancestry.com, which acquired the SMGF database, in order to obtain the name of the donor. This is all outlined in the warrant issued in New Orleans to obtain a DNA sample from Michael Usry (URL split for space limitations)

    https://www.eff.org/document/
    new-orleans-search-warrant-dna-
    idaho-falls-murder-case

    In my opinion as an experienced genetic genealogist, the correlation of the Y DNA results with a specific surname is rather weak, but other pieces of circumstantial evidence were included in the request for the warrant. Usry was then exonerated by a test that can uniquely identify an individual.

  20. Please read Judy Russell’s blog on the topic of Ancestry.com giving DNA to the police. This blog doesn’t have all the facts.

    See:
    http://legalgenealogist.com/bl…..ts-matter/

    Thank you!

  21. My understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong, i could be) is that this is a publicly searchable database so the police just had to upload DNA from the crime scene and then do a publicly accessible search based on that DNA sample to get the list of 41 matches. No warrant necessary.

  22. We have asked the EFF to amend their article as there are some incorrect statements in it.

    It is important to note the initial search was conducted via the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation’s (SMGF.org) database. This is a public database with de-identified genetic information, where individuals voluntarily participate and provide a DNA sample and genealogy information. Anyone who participates in the research study with SMGF signs a consent form that states that the de-identified genetic profile information will be placed into the publicly available SMGF database. Data was not simply handed over to the police and no personal identifying information was provided to the police until a court order was issued.

    Also important to note – this database is not the same as the AncestryDNA database.

    Disclosure: I work for Ancestry. I also have my DNA in the AncestryDNA database.

    Unfortunately, I cannot comment more on this specific case, but wanted to share a couple of key elements that change the narrative on this story.

  23. I am amolecular biologist (geneticist), and I would NEVER EVER hand my genetic code over to ANYONE!

    To the man in the article, I’d believe the words of my father-in-law over some dna test. Heres why:
    The accuracy of the test isn’t 100%. The test results are matched against various “markers” that have been commonly found in the DNA of various nationalities across the board. This doesn’t mean, however, that the common markers, say for Swedish ancestry, won’t be found in a person with no Swedish ancestry whatsoever. These markers are “common” for ScandsnaviansThe test results are based in probabilities, and should be treated as such, informative at best, but not as rock solid data. the genetic markers common for a given nationality CAN and DO appear in people that have none of that nationality in them and vice versa; ie a person can have Native American ancestry, but the results will come back negative.

    Using the Native American ancestry as an example, unless the testing center has the genetic markers for every Native American tribe in their database, and there were 100’s of tribes, and some no longer exist, the result would come back negative. if the tribe your father-in-law

  24. I am amolecular biologist (geneticist), and I would NEVER EVER hand my genetic code over to ANYONE!

    To the man in the article, I’d believe the words of my father-in-law over some dna test. Heres why:
    The accuracy of the test isn’t 100%. The test results are matched against various “markers” that have been commonly found in the DNA of various nationalities across the board. This doesn’t mean, however, that the common markers, say for Swedish ancestry, won’t be found in a person with no Swedish ancestry whatsoever. These markers are “common” for ScandsnaviansThe test results are based in probabilities, and should be treated as such, informative at best, but not as rock solid data. the genetic markers common for a given nationality CAN and DO appear in people that have none of that nationality in them and vice versa; ie a person can have Native American ancestry, but the results will come back negative.

    Using the Native American ancestry as an example, unless the testing center has the genetic markers for every Native American tribe in their database, and there were 100’s of tribes, and some no longer exist, the result would come back negative. if the tribe your father-in-law

  25. This is my real post! The other posts by me sent when the page refreshed and it posted twice. Hmmmm well, anyway THIS is the post to read. Ignore the others

    I am a molecular biologist (geneticist), and I’d believe the words of my father-in-law over some dna test. Here’s why:

    The accuracy of the test isn’t 100%. The test results are matched against various “DNA markers” that have been commonly found in various nationalities. The LACK of a marker IN NO WAY means the ancestry to that nationality does not exist. DNA testing can only tell you what you PROBABLY are, but it cannot tell you what you aren’t. There were over 100 NA tribes in North America. So unles the genetic database has all the genetic markers for every tribe, if the tribe your father-in-law belonged to isn’t in the database, the result will come back showing no Native American ancestry. The results are only as valid as the collection of markers in the database, and there’s NO WAY the world database has all the markers for all the nationalities that have ever existed.

    Bottom line: Go tell you father-in-law you believe him. The DNA test he had proved nothing. All it proved was that they didn’t have his tribe’s marker in the databank. If the testing center claims they’ve got all the markers, report them to the American Society for Human Genetics

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