Who is using your DNA?

If you have watched any television recently, you may have noticed an increase in the DNA profile commercials.  You know the ones – “I thought I was from Italy, but turns out I am mostly Scottish” and they promote that you can also learn your heritage by contacting them for a mail-in kit.  What you will receive in that kit is a way to send them a DNA sample so they can provide you with some breakdown of your alleged heritage.  Who knows if it’s true? It’s not like we have a local database we can run out and check it against.  But one thing that is becoming more known about that DNA swab – it can be sent to law enforcement without your knowledge.  This article discusses how the DNA can be used and why you should NEVER share your personal information with strangers.  Do you know who is using your DNA?

DNA – Personal Information?

When you submit your samples to one of the genetic services, you are submitting your personal information, included in those skin cell samples.  As it turns out, Ancestry and others like that site have disclaimers notifying you that they may send your information to law enforcement if requested.

What’s even worse, is that law enforcement can even use genetic information from those companies to identify you in a criminal investigation, even if YOU never used one of the services for yourself.  Many people believe that if they have done nothing wrong, there is nothing to hide.  This article is not about hiding information.  It’s about protecting your personal information and assuring that you are aware of where it is going and how it can be used (against you) without your immediate consent.

The Good News

Yes, there is good news.  Even if you have never used one of these services and someone in your family has, law enforcement still needs a reason to request that the information be turned over.  That requires a subpoena for those records and a need for probable cause to request them.

The bottom line is you should always be careful about submitting any personal information to companies that you do not know and be sure to read the fine print when you are submitting information about yourself.  You may be surprised at what is written in the terms and conditions that is required of you before you can proceed.

In today’s society, we have seen large scale data breaches of our personal information from those who should have had the highest levels of security protecting it (Equifax, for example).  Once your data is gone, it can be used for any number of things.  While we had no way to prevent the breach at Equifax or stop our information from being provided to them in the first place, we can protect ourselves by the following tips regarding the use of our DNA.

  • Be sure to look for any type of opt out from sharing your information with others
  • Know who can receive your information and how it will be stored after your request is complete (i.e. lineage is defined)
  • Know how long your information will be kept and who has access to that information
  • Read all of the fine print carefully, including parts that may explain how your information will be used
  • Consider the potential risks in using a particular service and what your submitted information can be used for in the future
  • If you have questions, contact the company directly in writing and keep a copy of this on file
  • Educate family members on the potential consequences of using such a service

Contact Us

If you find yourself in need of an attorney for a criminal matter in Massachusetts, contact us here.  Christine has experience in civil, criminal and appellate courts and will work with you for the best solution.