Pentagon Memo Warns Against Identification Risks of Consumer Genetic Testing

That horse has left the barn.


A new Defense Department memo warns that direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing "could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increase risk to the joint force and mission." The memo adds that "there is increased concern in the scientific community that outside parties are exploiting the use of genetic data for questionable purposes, including mass surveillance and the ability to track individuals without their authorization or awareness. Until notified otherwise, [Department of Defense] military personnel are advised to refrain from the purchase and/or use of DTC genetic services."

Way too late.

Some 26 million Americans have already used DTC genetic testing services to gain insights into their health risks and ancestry. By one estimate, it was possible in 2018 to use these DTC databases to personally identify 140 million Americans of European descent using genetic information uploaded by themselves and their relatives. It is projected that as many as 100 million Americans will have used such genetic testing services in the next two years. At that point, almost any American could be identified by matching their DNA to that of their relatives in online databases. In other words, we users of genetic testing services have been voluntarily creating "a de facto national DNA database." To use the hoary, but apt cliche: The Pentagon is closing the barn door well after the horses have stampeded out.

Given how pervasive and much more easily deployed facial recognition technology is, I can hardly wait to read the DoD memo warning troops not to post their photos on Facebook.

While it is not possible to rein in genetic and facial recognition surveillance technologies in dictatorships like China and Russia, Americans should urgently seek to do so through legislation in Congress.

Disclosure: Any would-be criminal relatives are on notice that my DNA test results are publicly available.