back to article I'm a crime-fighter, says FamilyTreeDNA boss after being caught giving folks' DNA data to FBI

Some would argue he has broken every ethical and moral rule of his in his profession, but genealogist Bennett Greenspan prefers to see himself as a crime-fighter. "I spent many, many nights and many, many weekends thinking of what privacy and confidentiality would mean to a genealogist such as me," the founder and president of …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " It's unclear when FamilyTreeDNA started selling access to its database" ??? That appears to be the whole point of the FamilyTreeDNA operation, even before this. You pay your money, submit your DNA, then get access to the database to see matches. If you thought other people couldn't then see matches of their DNA profile against yours, you seem to have been mistaken from the get-go. The change is that "other people" now includes the FBI. Which it probably could of before, just now they get a discounted government rate, probably. I''m not really seeing the outrage here, it is just a company expanding their customer base.

    1. overunder
      Big Brother

      Well helloooooo.

      Well, with all the free time in this government shutdown, it's nice to see the FBI posting here, welcome! There's even an icon just for you ---->

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Well helloooooo.

        I agree an think you are wrong. Everyone has to include the Feds, the police etc. Think about it, you have a John or Jane Doe in the hospital, they are comatose and have no ID on them. How do you find out who they are and who their next of kin might be? maybe someone is missing them?

        Maybe they die and there is nobody to notify. If they have never come to the attention of the authorities they won't have their fingerprints on file, like that shearer in Southern Australia recently. But a DNA database like this could find a relative. But that would take investigators with suitable legal powers would it not?

        If you allow those scenarios and I think you have to then you have to allow law enforcement, and they come with court orders and subpoenas, so there is independent oversight and comeback if the application is trivial or malign. What exactly is the problem?

        Also if you live in or have lived in and been fingered in England and Wales your DNA is on the Police National Database and good luck getting it off even if you are not charged and are innocent. This is by design.

        Here in Scotland if you are not charged or are found innocent both the record and the sample are removed and destroyed.

        So if you live in England or Wales your DNA is at much greater risk than those customers in the US.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well helloooooo.

          >>Also if you live in or have lived in and been fingered in England and Wales your DNA is on the Police National Database and good luck getting it off even if you are not charged and are innocent. This is by design.

          This is incorrect. If you're not charged, or found not guilty then your DNA and fingerprints are deleted automatically. Even if you're convicted, the data will be erased after a period of time, for most offences.

          See Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

          1. Kane Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Well helloooooo.

            "This is incorrect. If you're not charged, or found not guilty then your DNA and fingerprints are deleted automatically. Even if you're convicted, the data will be erased after a period of time, for most offences."

            Mwah!

            The level of naivety of this statement is staggering.

            1. Mooseman Bronze badge

              Re: Well helloooooo.

              "The level of naivety of this statement is staggering."

              No more so than the happy assumption that the police in Scotland will remove your DNA and details from their files if you're not convicted. However, other than a slightly paranoid stance about the police do you have any evidence to suggest the police DON'T delete your data?

              1. ReverandDave

                Re: Well helloooooo.

                So you're asking him to prove a negative?

        2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

          Re: Well helloooooo.

          "If you allow those scenarios and I think you have to then you have to allow law enforcement, and they come with court orders and subpoenas, so there is independent oversight and comeback if the application is trivial or malign. What exactly is the problem?"

          The lack of court orders or subpoenas, while giving access to a confidential database.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Well helloooooo.

            "The lack of court orders or subpoenas, while giving access to a confidential database."

            And what if you happen to be an employee of the FBI nad have an interest in genealogy? That person then has a legal right to use the database. It's not even "tainted" evidence if it's obtained legally, even without a warrant. The only real difference here is that the FBI have their own specific account.

            This is a problem for the US legal system and privacy advocates. It's not currently a problem for law enforcement because they are not breaking any rules. It's the rules that are wrong.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well helloooooo.

          Here in Scotland if you are not charged or are found innocent both the record and the sample are removed and destroyed.

          Police Scotland don't have a clean sheet themselves. What persuades you that they are actually abiding by these rules? A comment in this thread makes the observation that similar rules apply in England & Wales - I'm not convinced Plod follows those, in the same way that they're busy tracking as many of my car movements as possible with cause or consent.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Well helloooooo.

            "A comment in this thread makes the observation that similar rules apply in England & Wales - I'm not convinced Plod follows those,"

            Correct. The DNA record is supposed to be removed. But currently the Police claim their database isn't set up to allow deletion of records so they can't do it, despite the law saying they must. They say they need to spend inordinate amounts of money to get the system legally compliant and this takes time. Here we are, years later and the Police are still breaking the law and no one has been arrested or charged with the breach.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Have the FBI shared their DNA database with anyone?

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Big Brother

        NSA? CIA? DHS? IRS?

    3. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Difference in use

      "The change is that "other people" now includes the FBI."

      As I understood these DNA testing sites normally only allow you to submit your own DNA. If members of the public can submit third party samples I'd be surprised.

      The FBI is ONLY using third party samples, it's not an agent submitting their DNA. Very different use case.

      There's also a difference between what a LEO can formally gather as evidence and what the public can see. Yes, it can seem silly that a member of the public can take a photo in a public space and be fine, but the cops need permission to do so if they intend to use the photos as part of an investigation. In the US you have to show the entire trail of evidence, as there is the concept of "the fruit of the poisoned tree".

      If FamilyTreeDNA was only responding to subpoenas or other warranted searches that should be fine, as a court is acting as a check and balance. But it sounds like it's pretty much a free for all.

      1. adam 40

        Re: Difference in use

        >> The FBI is ONLY using third party samples, it's not an agent submitting their DNA. Very different use case. <<

        Not only that, they are submitting DNA sampleas against the owner's will. E.g. perps, corpses, and similar, have not given consent.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "You pay your money, submit your DNA, then get access to the database to see matches."

      You get access to matches with your DNA. The FBI agents aren't submitting their own DNA, they're submitting somebody else's.

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "The change is that "other people" now includes the FBI. Which it probably could of before, just now they get a discounted government rate, probably."

      Exactly that. According to the article, the FBI have the same access as any other customer. There's no way to stop that. Anyone in the FBI could create an account and submit DNA just like any member of the public. It was blindingly obvious this would happen as soon as the first public DNA database was launched. Just because these guys admit they do it doesn't mean that all the others aren't doing it to, even if they don't know they are.

      It's potentially only small step before insurance companies start offering "too much to refuse" or even buying up one of these companies and scanning the database for customers and genetic predispositions to illness and disease.

      For you left pondians, this is one of the reasons the EU has GDPR now. It'll be interesting to see what the various EU nations take on this is. DNA is the very epitome of personal data and I bet there are EU citizens data in there. I wonder how much, if any, assets or physical presence FamilyTreeDNA has in the EU?

  2. Dabbb Bronze badge
    Trollface

    Shocked

    What next, Apple and it's database of fingerprints ?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Shocked

      Apple can sell their entire database of fingerprints, I'm fine with it. That would be a total of zero fingerprints.

    2. Slx

      Re: Shocked

      No such database exists, at least according to anything they've release about how TouchID works. The biometric data is stored only on your device, encrypted and can only be used by that specific piece of hardware. Even the OS itself doesn't have direct access to it.

      1. Dabbb Bronze badge

        Re: Shocked

        There's zero proof that Apple does not have access to TouchID or can't gain that access if or when it is required. It's their firmware after all and it can be modified at any time.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Shocked

          There's also zero proof Google won't delete the entire contents of Google cloud storage tomorrow. You can't prove a negative, this kind of reasoning is stupid.

          1. Dabbb Bronze badge

            Re: Shocked

            What Google has to do with it ?

            Is there any proof that Apple can't access TouchID except their own words ?

            Yes or no.

            Pick one.

          2. Naselus

            Re: Shocked

            "You can't prove a negative, this kind of reasoning is stupid."

            Uh, while I don't believe that Apple is using TouchID to mass-harvest fingerprints for a secret database, you CAN prove a negative. For example, 'The is no milk in this bowl' is a negative, and can be proven by simple observation of the lack of milk within the bowl.

        2. Mooseman Bronze badge

          Re: Shocked

          "There's zero proof that Apple does not have access to TouchID or can't gain that access if or when it is required. It's their firmware after all and it can be modified at any time."

          There is zero proof that invisible dragons aren't running the planet. You can't assume something is true because you simply don't like a company. What you need is actual proof that Apple can transmit and retain your fingerprint ID from your phone. THAT would be worth commenting on.

          1. WatAWorld

            Re: Shocked

            There was zero proof that DNA FamilyTree was sharing DNA matches with the FBI, up until now.

            The situation is the same as with Apple and Google(Android) now as it with FamilyTree DNA before.

        3. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: Shocked

          The secure enclave is not a firmware feature it is a hardware one, people have analysed how it works and there is no way for he chip to send finger print data to the rest of the phone.

      2. Tom Chiverton 1

        Re: Shocked

        One approach would be for Apple to send a target print to all the phones and ask the secure element to match it, then report back the phone id and result.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Shocked

          They would get thousands and thousands of matches, because the hashing algorithm they use is by design lossy.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shocked

        >No such database exists, at least according to anything they've release about how TouchID works.

        Ah! Such naivety! Very charming, in small children. Can I interest you in this bridge I am planning to sell? Just one prior owner.

      4. WatAWorld

        Re: Shocked

        "No such database exists, at least according to anything they've release about how TouchID works."

        And they don't update your iPhone software to force your CPU to run slower after a year or two.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Shocked

      how about "government run hospitals" and EVERYONE'S blood samples?

      1. WatAWorld

        Re: Shocked

        "how about "government run hospitals" and EVERYONE'S blood samples?"

        If the FBI had access to that blood they wouldn't need private DNA companies.

  3. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    Damn it! See icon--->

    We all owe Greenspan and FamilyTreeDNA a debt of gratitude for his ethical and moral stance.

    The worst part is it's bourbon o'clock!

  4. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to find the NHS in league with the plods.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: NHS in league with the plods.

      They have been with Google/Alphabet.

      Now the NHS wants to test EVERYONE's DNA and "share it for research", though to start with you have to pay.

      https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/02/the-massive-nhs-plan-to-record-every-single-persons-dna/

      https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jul/03/nhs-routine-dna-tests-precision-cancer-tumour-screening

      Why do I suspect it's more about making money than health?

      Most "Genetic causes" are contentious, involve very many genes and the additional risk where agreed isn't clear.

      There are small number of serious medical conditions that have clear genetic causes and might respond to gene therapy or need special treatment. Those can be tested for when the symptoms are spotted.

      General Genetic testing and databases (maybe even part of biometric ID) of everyone, given lack of security, privacy and lack of understanding of what most of it really means is madness. Gene edit tools such as CRISPR need to be reserved for life threatening conditions due to side-effect mutations.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      "the NHS in league with the plods"

      If not NOW, then eventually...

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Actually, I don't see a problem...

    Hm. It's kind of like posting Twitters and then complaining the government can see your tweets.

    (Actually, I'd **PAY** NOT to see my government's tweets!! Via Twitter, the New York Times, or any damn body else - and you know who I'm talkin' 'bout!)

    1. overunder

      Re: Actually, I don't see a problem...

      Do you pay 100usd to exclusively see who follows you on Twitter? If you do, let me send you an email on an exclusive offer! Hurry!!

      P.s. I'll give you a little more time to respond as you might be using Azure... but just for you!

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Actually, I don't see a problem...

      That is the problem. It's the same problem with Facebook: its users are oblivious to the dangers because the dangers don't arise directly in the service interface and may affect other people in the community more than themselves.

      The broader effects on society, however, are truly troubling.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Re: Actually, I don't see a problem...

        Actually, it's a bigger problem that Gene doesn't see a problem....

  6. dbtx Bronze badge

    I want the exclusive copyright on my own DNA. What button do I press?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What button do I press?

      GDPR ?

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Happy

      I want the exclusive copyright on my own DNA.

      Copyright comes from the act of creation. The copyright isn't yours, it's your parents.

      1. dbtx Bronze badge

        I thought about that, but neither of my parents ever have the original. They contribute to a unique derivative work, and assign the copyright to me, using their right to make partial copies of their own. IMO we *must* all get our own because as often as we exist we are legitimately making copies of copies of copies. And then, sometimes, yet more derivative works.

        1. bpfh Bronze badge

          Technically...

          Your fathers source code was committed to your mothers repo, and merged with hers, then was managed and developed further by her until you arrived as a 1.0 release about 9 months later (or possibly public beta if the product was delivered early but unfinished and asking the community for assistance to complete the product. Which raises some ethical questions about your public licence...

          So, aside from the initial commit and merge, all the development into a viable product was done by yo moma, so I would say she is responsible for the original work and holds the copyright and enforced her legal ownership until copyright expiration after between the legal 18 and 21 years expiration date!

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Technically...

            "So, aside from the initial commit and merge, all the development into a viable product was done by yo moma, so I would say she is responsible for the original work and holds the copyright and enforced her legal ownership until copyright expiration after between the legal 18 and 21 years expiration date!"

            Try telling that to the researchers and scientists who have or are trying to patent human DNA sequences.

    3. JoeCool

      you want to own your own DNA ?

      See Lacks, Henrietta

  7. adnim Silver badge

    Proof of ownership?

    "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,"

    So anyone not just the FBI can submit a third parties DNA and not violate their privacy?

    1. FelixReg

      Re: Proof of ownership?

      That's a very good point.

      Currently, probably most people think a 3rd party DNA upload is sketchy behavior. That thought seems supported in part because DNA is still magical stuff to us. Most people don't feel comfortable playing with magical stuff that may be dangerous.

      From another view, is it sketchy behavior to upload a picture of another person? In many ways, a picture is more personal and carries more information than the DNA information these sites use. How long do you figure it will be before someone starts building "AI" systems to figure out, given a large group of pictures, who is the child or parent of who?

      Welcome to the global village.

      1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        "How long do you figure it will be before someone starts building "AI" systems to figure out, given a large group of pictures, who is the child or parent of who?"

        Don't need an AI.

        We were covering blood types in biology, and how they get passed on. One lass was very confused, since based on her parents blood type it was highly improbable that she would have the blood type she did. The teacher took her aside for a wee chat after the lesson.

        The maternity ward at my local hospital now disguise the blood types on their action board (whiteboard with emergency patient details), they use numbers (AB neg is 7, O is 1 no idea of the others) after a couple came in to see their new grandchild, and the dad saw the daughters blood type and realised that he wasn't her dad, and the new sprog was not in fact his grandchild.

        Happens more often than you think. About 10% of the people listed as father on a birth certificate can be shown to not be the biological father. Not that it matters a lot of the time, being a parent is about raising a kid, not just siring them.

        "who is the child or parent of who?"

        What, like most people can look at Prince Charles and Prince William and see the resemblance as they age, wheras Harry looks like the spitting image of James Hewitt.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          "Happens more often than you think. About 10% of the people listed as father on a birth certificate can be shown to not be the biological father. Not that it matters a lot of the time, being a parent is about raising a kid, not just siring them."

          !0% sounds rather high. Any references for that? Nevertheless, I agree wholeheartedly about the raising versus siring distinction. Any prick can do the latter.

          1. VikiAi Bronze badge
            Boffin

            Re: Proof of ownership?

            Last stat I saw was around 5% of newborns' blood types don't match what the father could have produced, with a general extrapolation to another 5% probably also not related despite having got a credible typing. Fairly consistent across-the-board for culture, income, and most other factors too.

            I say that as someone who had a genetic male progenitor, but not a father in any meaningful sense after age 3, for reasons mentioned above.

          2. Boo Radley

            Re: Proof of ownership?

            I read an article recently, can't find it now, that stated up to 30% of fathers were raising a child not their own, and didn't know it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Proof of ownership?

              It's hard to know whether they know it. If for whatever reason you haven't told your child who their biological father is then you're hardly likely to tell some random researcher, are you?

              In England if you're the husband of a woman who has a baby, and you want to be the father, then you are the father, pretty much, as I understand it, even if you've been separated from the mother for years. This can be an unpleasant surprise for the biological parents.

            2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Proof of ownership?

              up to 30%

              I'll do better than that: Up to 100% of X possess attribute Y.

              "Up to" is a weasel phrase. Toss it in and you no longer have a meaningful claim.

          3. Spire

            Re: Proof of ownership?

            “In graduate school, genetics students typically are taught that 5 to 15 percent of the men on birth certificates are not the biological fathers of their children.”

            Greenspan’s name comes up in this article as well.

            https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/305969/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          >About 10% of the people listed as father on a birth certificate can be shown to not be the biological father.

          It is the same situation also in my country.

          1. MCMLXV

            In my own country

            Anonymous and you don't mention your country. What was the point of that post?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: In my own country

              You didn't think it was a mistake, right? It is called a national embarrassment. Let's just say we are roughly at the same latitudes.

        3. Raedwald Bretwalda

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          "One lass was very confused"

          In the UK I doubt this has happened for a long time. I'm 52, and when we did blood types at school you needed permission from your parents to do blood typing of your own blood, to avoid just this kind of problem.

    2. John Savard Silver badge

      Re: Proof of ownership?

      I'm not sure that this is an issue here. If the FBI submits the DNA of an unidentified body, so as to identify it and contact relatives, it's acting legitimately on behalf of the interests of that person. If it submits DNA from a crime scene, the criminal has forefeited any right to privacy by his act.

      The issue is that the people in the database are having their privacy violated, by having their DNA matched under circumstances different from what they expected - by long-lost relatives looking for them. And so the fact that the FBI is getting the same information as a regular customer is relevant even if not decisive.

      1. adnim Silver badge

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        The DNA from a crime scene is that of suspects John, not necessarily the perpetrator. A very clever criminal may not leave any DNA traces at all. A crime scene in a public place will certainly contain the DNA of innocent people... Where is the warrant?

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          @adnim " A very clever criminal may not leave any DNA traces at all"

          .. or they may leave potentially incriminating traces of someone else's DNA

          1. adnim Silver badge

            Re: Proof of ownership?

            @tiggity, you are right, I must learn to be more devious :-)

      2. teknopaul Bronze badge

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        The idea that criminals have no rights is disturbing.

        If I hear someone is a convicted criminal I dont presume they are a bad person.

        If DNA testing was involved in the conviction I dont even presume they are guilty.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          >If DNA testing was involved in the conviction I dont even presume they are guilty.

          Why??

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Proof of ownership?

          "The idea that criminals have no rights is disturbing."

          Exactly. If you have EVER been falsely accused of something, or in ANY way wrongly prosecuted, you'd have to agree. The important thing is that THE ACCUSED specifically has rights. Once "the accused" becomes "a criminal" in someone's minds, and it's NOW justified that "criminals have no rights", then say goodbye to any fairness in the criminal justice system.

          Adversarial criminal justice in which the accused has EVERY possible advantage means that 'wrong convictions' happen least often. If it means that criminals get off without punishment, so be it. And if it means that law enforcement can't be LAZY by doing FISHING EXPEDITIONS in a DNA database, TOO BAD.

          It's better to catch the ACTUAL criminal, and convict without a shadow of a doubt. Then we lock 'em up knowing the right person is in jail, and wrongly convicted people (due to prosecutorial laziness or ABUSE of power) don't end up there instead.

          1. WatAWorld

            Re: Proof of ownership?

            Criminals do have most rights. But international law allows those rights to be less than for non-criminals.

            For example, the right to assembly, the right to freedom of movement, the right to start a family, the right to communicate in private with others. The UN Declaration on Human Rights allows such rights to be suspended for criminals serving their sentence.

            But suspects aren't convicts. They're presumed innocent.

            And what about the FBI using DNA not for purposes of criminal law, but in its role as the USA's version of MI5, domestic surveillance and counter-espionage. Surveying dissident politicians and peaceful activists, people with peaceful unpopular opinions.

            When I get a DNA test done, am I giving permission for my DNA to be used by the FBI (RCMP, MI5, FSB, etc.) to track a relative 50 years from now?

    3. Gritpype Thynne

      Re: Proof of ownership?

      The only person who's privacy has definitely been violated is the owner of the sample from the crime scene.

      In all other cases, as far as I am aware, the person submitting the dna signs a declaration that it's their DNA and they give permission...etc. Unfortunately I can't find my copy to say exactly what it said.

      So yes, anybody could submit a suitable sample from anybody - I have done it myself, using my credit card, but only with the permission of that person. Otherwise it would be in violation of that person's privacy, not to mention various laws, depending on which country I was in.

      However I do not see it as a violation of the privacy of everybody else in the system, which is what some people seem to be getting worked up about. All testing companies are like this - they do not carry out background checks to ensure the name and signature is from a real person.

      There are a lot of commentators here who don't seem to understand what is going on, including the author. The statement...

      "we imagine that anyone learning that they can pay to have their DNA details handed over to the FBI will jump at the chance to improve society by allowing criminals to be tracked down faster."

      is a complete misrepresentation. As Greenspan explained it, nobody's DNA details are handed over to the FBI - all they get is a list of names - usually meaningless aliases - and sometimes an email address together with a value indicating the fraction of shared DNA. Anything else would require court order. The FBI starts with no more access than I do. They cannot do the same types of comparisons that they could with the police databases.

      Now, all this is assuming the description Greenspan gives is correct, and I have seen nothing to the contrary. It seems reasonable to say that he is merely formalising a process that could be already going on with all testing companies. He might also be offering the processing of samples other than their standard cheek swab - their standard customer DNA test requires a moderately large sample of DNA, which would probably fail on much of the crime scene evidence.

      While I have no difficulty with what he is doing, where he seems to have made a complete mess is in being deceitful about it - it has been suggested elsewhere that he changed the T&C to reflect the new operation, but I have yet to receive any notification of this, unless it was snuck in around the time of the GDPR adjustments.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        lemme 'splain...

        the violation of the rights of everyone in "the system" is allowing law enforcement to LEGALLY "go on a fishing expedition" with it. A warrant should be necessary, identifying the SPECIFIC person you're trying to match it against. And to get a warrant, you'd need evidence to show to a judge to justify it. Otherwise, law enforcement "fishing expeditions" is generally a violation of privacy. We don't need THAT in our society, now do we?

      2. OrientalHero

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        I think everyone is leery of being on an automated suspect list.

        Is it a bit like being at a party with a policeman, but they're actually not off duty/there to party... They're looking for a suspect?

        Or is it the thought of being on the Occam's Razor of well, you were at the crime scene, you are a suspect. If your's is the only DNA and you don't have a water tight alibi, does that make you Prime Suspect?

        Even if you do have nothing to hide, the more investigations you are in, the more suspicious it will seem. Or a mistake in processing will be made, resulting in a miscarriage of justice (which is only a miscarriage once it's discovered/acted upon).

      3. WatAWorld

        Re: Proof of ownership?

        If you've paid FamilyTreeDNA you've used your credit card, and you're traceable through that.

        Assuming you didn't use a stolen credit card.

  8. J J Carter Silver badge
    Trollface

    Yep

    As usual the Democrats and leftwits instinctively side with the criminal, prioritising the ‘umin rights of killers over the safety of the children.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Yep

      Got a low health insurance premium? Someone with genetic markers for susceptibility to heart disease or cancer can send a sample to FamilyTreeDNA labelled J J Carter and fix that for you.

      Ever left your hair brush where someone else could get to it? A couple of hairs at a crime scene and the rest to FamilyTreeDNA will give you an interesting time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yep

        Exactly!! Real example:

        We had a robbery a couple of years ago (stealing copper from our roof).

        Police found multiple cigarette butts scattered liberally around crime scene, but had to discount this because it was the "thing" for toerags to collect fag ends from pubs/clubs so they could throw off any DNA tests.

        Some insurance companies are already refusing customers unless they use a specific fitness app - would you give these people access to conditions and diseases you could "possibly" suffer?

        Mad.

        1. Mike 16 Silver badge

          Cigarette Butts

          So, they had been studying up on Kurt?

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_Station_Kurt

          Wherein the installers (3rd Reich) scattered American Cigarette packets were scattered about to reinforce the notion that the robot weather station was set up by the Allies.

          Note also Italian resistance fighters attached Allied-supplied bombs (triggered by sudden drops in light, e.g. from entering a tunnel) to railroad rolling stock in alpine regions. They were labelled as being "tracking devices" attached by the Germans, and warned of dire consequences for anybody tampering with them.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Yep

      "As usual the Democrats and leftwits instinctively side with the criminal"

      There's always somebody who doesn't get it.

      Carter, hasn't it dawned on you that all the rules about evidence and criminal procedure are there to protect you? Not just you, of course. Me, all the rest of the elReg commentards and the public in general.

      If you still don't get it, think about this. If your local law enforcement turned up at your door and arrested you for something you didn't do would you voluntarily give up all your rights to due process of law because those rights "side with the criminal" and you're not a criminal?

      The lack of short cuts mean that law enforcement has to put in the work to make sure they get it right. As one who, in his time, was one of those who had to put in that work I wouldn't have had it any other way. The possibility of finding I'd taken part in a wrongful conviction was something I dreaded.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Yep

      "As usual the Democrats and leftwits instinctively side with the criminal, prioritising the ‘umin rights of killers over the safety of the children."

      None of the commenters have declared any form of political association until you outed yourself as a dimwitted republican (note, I'm calling your comment dimwitted, not all republicans). It's actually rather sad that you think human rights should be apportioned by some sort of scale that you get to define. What happened to the constitutional "inalienable" rights?

    4. Mooseman Bronze badge

      Re: Yep

      as usual the trumptards start with sad little insults,

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Yep

        "as usual the trumpLIBtards start with sad little insults,"

        fixed it for ya. Seriously, I voted for and support Trump, and you can read my existing comments on this topic if you want to know what I think.

        Civil liberties and 'rights of the accused' are EXTREMELY important in a free society; otherwise, you might as well be in a dictatorship. [and I'm pretty sure that Trump would agree with this, particularly in light of the current 'witch hunt' going on].

        1. Mooseman Bronze badge

          Re: Yep

          " Seriously, I voted for and support Trump"

          We can tell. Your comment are uniformly stupid.

      2. holmegm

        Re: Yep

        It was just a troll (which means "person trolling for reactions", not "person I disagree with"), and not even a very good one.

        Probably an amateur, but possibly even one paid by the other political side.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    IT Angle

    Even better than Google.

    They charge the product for their service first

    You can tell this is a real 21st century internet company alright.

    The only place this guy knows the word ethics from is a dictionary.

    Can you get much more "personal" (and sensitive) data than your DNA?

    1. Spamfast
      Coat

      Re: Even better than Google.

      Ethics?

      It's a county east of London, isn't it?

      Coat ...

      1. Charlie van Becelaere
        Coat

        Re: Even better than Google.

        "Ethics?

        It's a county east of London, isn't it?"

        Yes, and I hear it's the only way ....

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spit in his eye...

    ... that's the only DNA of mine this chap would receive.

    Quite how he could think this is ethical is astounding.

  11. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Please read the T&A, don't just check the box.

    In the world these days I'd have been more surprised if the company wasn't sharing the data with the FBI but while people will run around like headless chickens saying that this shouldn't be happening and that the other wing (left and right) is to blame, folks signed up for the service and nobody ever said that everything would be kept secret. "Sharing" ... look the word up in a dictionary.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Please read the T&A, don't just check the box.

      Actually, it would be interesting to read what exactly the terms and conditions said before they started sharing with the FBI. I wouldnt be surprised if theyve just opened themselves up to one hell of a class action lawsuit...

      1. WatAWorld

        Re: Please read the T&A, don't just check the box.

        Ten years ago there was nothing about sharing with the FBI. That is when I did my sample.

        TOS change. But the TOS for a purchased service is the TOS at the time the service was purchased.

  12. pcolamar

    Thank you FB !! (irony head !)

    Quote "Those profiles have been built by customers who have paid between $79 and $199 to have their generic material analyzed, in large part to understand their personal history and sometimes find connections to unknown family members.

    (Irony ahead !!!) I feel almost grateful to FB, Insta. and alike. At least we do not pay them for the exploitation of our data :-)

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Crowdsourcing?

    I don't think it really is crowdsourcing. AIUI the term means that the resource is built collaboratively. The FBI would be searching for individual records and any individual record is lights on hasn't been sourced by the crowd, it's been sourced by the individual who submitted it. It's no more crowdsourcing than a bank's accounts are.

  14. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Bennett Greenspan prefers to see himself as a crime-fighter.

    As do all vigilantes.

  15. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Dodgy Nutritional Analysis

    I took a cheek swab right after lunch.

    The results came back that I'm: 45% hamburger, 37% Guinness, and 18% chips.

    I hope that there's no violent criminals that have also had a nice lunch.

  16. Howard Hanek Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    It's For the Children

    ....and all you little girls and boys out there don't forget.....it's NOT a crime to inform us about your parents, relatives and friends activities if you think they don't promote (fill in PC doctrine). You will be well rewarded by a grateful state.

    1. Waseem Alkurdi

      Re: It's For the Children

      1984, right?

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: It's For the Children

        1984 and several real world political regimes of the past and present. Some of which seem to have taken George Orwell's book as an instruction manual.

  17. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

    Techdirt has a few articles on DNA testing, but this one is downright scary:

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160228/09294533745/medical-examiner-sues-city-new-york-after-being-forced-out-her-job-questioning-dna-testing-techniques.shtml

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: inaccurate testing

      Recently a pair of identical twins sent samples to loads of these sort of tests (like FamilyTreeDNA). Results different!

      Ethnicity reports are poor unless you are mostly West European Origin.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: inaccurate testing

        The 'phantom of Heilbronn' is a particularly worrying case - mostly because I don't know whether to laugh or cry: it took TWO YEARS for the police to work out what was happening.

        http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1888126,00.html

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: inaccurate testing

        "Ethnicity reports are poor unless you are mostly West European Origin"

        what if you're 1/1024'th American Indian ?

        (I'm around 1/8 and actually LOOK like it, unlike a certain politician in the USA that claimed 'Native American' on a COLLEGE APPLICATION to qualify for 'affirmative action' programs - right, 'Pocahontas' ? and I personally *DESPISE* racial quotas of ANY kind)

        I have to wonder if anyone's considered scamming DNA test results to qualify for PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT... (but suggest using IQ results for head-o-the-line privs and you'll get a ship-load of backlash!)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "who wish to locate birth parents but are prevented from being given by the information by law"

    So they were already breaking the law - is some breaking more "ethical" than another? Who decides that?

    Anyway, I would like to lose some relatives, can't really understand people who looks for new ones... <G>

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: "who wish to locate birth parents but are prevented from being given by the information by law"

      Right now, the information may be used by law enforcement for identifying suspects based on DNA evidence. That's now. What about when this information slips out into the wild because of some hack or sloppiness on the part of the government? Is it possible that it might, even if still controlled by the company and accessed by law enforcement, be used for other purposes (political, for example) or to enforce laws that we do not have yet and may not be to the benefit of the customers of this service?

      There are certain areas where medical professionals are legally bound to work with law enforcement. This is not one of them. Until it is and everyone is aware of it, then FamilyTreeDNA is violating what most would consider ethical behavior and should be sanctioned.

  19. Chris Manson

    Spike the DNA company guns

    Easy; just get two or more people together and agree to swap everyone's personal details. Use someone elses details with your DNA. When the results come in, you all just pass over the results to the right person. If anything DOES occur in the future, simply insist they do another DNA check and/or threaten whomever that they have it all wrong and sue them. Once that happens a few times, they won't be able to rely on the database any more. After all, people pay to get their results, not to have some company make money on the side. It's kind of like having a dead family member in for funeral preparation, but they get their organs harvested as well. Immoral. I suggest that 'opting out' of having DNA shared is as credible as internet companies agreeing not to track you and use cookies etc, without your explicit permission.

  20. Terje

    It all depends on what you use it for.

    From an ethical point of view I would say that using the data to try to figure out who an unknown dead person is is probably ok in most cases, of course you can construct cases when it is probably not ok, but in a general sense for the general profile of "Found dead person in a lake who is it" case I have no issue with it. You definitely step over a line when you try to use it to find a suspect. Your ethical mileage may vary.

  21. horriblicious

    Tempest in a teapot. Users of the service have voluntarily provided their DNA to allow for matching against anyone else that might wish to also provide a sample. If you are unhappy about the fact that anyone else could try to match, why did you submit the sample? Once again, folks are not thinking about how much they are diluting their privacy by using all these wonderful, modern, internet tools. How would the company prevent evil uses of the information once you have provided your DNA? They can't know the motivations of those asking for access.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does it also notify the matching users?

    Consider you already have a FamilyTree account and receive the automated message:

    "Good news! We have found a match! Click here to contact your lost brother FBI_CORPSE201923"

  23. WatAWorld

    Consider too that historically the FBI has done some political policing too.

    Consider too that historically the FBI has done some political policing too.

    I'm thinking of all the files they kept on peaceful political dissidents like Martin Luther King. I don't know how much the FBI still does, we won't know for 25 years at least. Hopefully not much, but that might change under different administrations.

    It is something to keep in mind.

  24. Bruce Ordway

    DNA testing - necessary or vanity

    Since I'm adopted I have looked at DNA analysis services.

    As I considered privacy, there seemed to be too many loopholes for my comfort.

    I seriously doubt that anything would ever come back & actually bite me but...

    had this nagging feeling that DNA could somehow be abused in the future.

    Other than idle curiosity, I really have no real need to discover anything about blood relations either.

    Even if I had a level trust, there is guarantee any relative of mine has used any of the many DNA testing services.

  25. perlcat

    This is why we can't have nice things.

    This is also why I refuse to have my DNA tested. It only takes one accident to get your unique information out there, and what this criminal did was no accident at all.

  26. YARR

    Q: does the ends (identifying a criminal) justify the means (violating data privacy rights)? For people who agreed to having their DNA searchable, perhaps not. For relatives who can be identified as a close match, yes this is a violation of their privacy. How serious would a crime have to be to justify a violation of privacy on this scale? I don't think this privacy right should be routinely abused, if ever. If law enforcement agencies already abuse the power of DNA databases by retaining DNA for innocent people, then they should not be entrusted with any further powers.

    Re. to allow the agency to create new profiles on his system using DNA collected from, say, corpses, crime scenes, and suspects.

    Q: Do the FBI own this DNA (personally identifiable information)? I think not.

    Corpses - do human rights end when you die? If law enforcement are entitled to retain DNA from any corpse, they could eventually obtain everyone's family DNA history. Unidentified corpses that are obviously a victim of a crime, perhaps.

    Crime scene - an innocent person's DNA could be left at a crime scene (if they were there before / after the crime). Can law enforcement retain this DNA indefinitely, or should it only be retained while that crime is under investigation?

    Suspects - are innocent until proven guilty, so again there must be strict rules for how long their DNA can be retained. Once eliminated from an investigation, their DNA should be deleted.

  27. Dropper

    Yup

    Exactly this every time someone suggests something as stupid as giving up your DNA voluntarily.

    I know people will swap their AD usernames and passwords for a pen.. but surely they would want to keep something that can put you in jail, identify pre-existng conditions to medical insurers or proof you're related to the Welsh safely contained in their keyboards (skin, hair, etc).

  28. Someone Else Silver badge
    Alert

    Simples...

    Simply don't use the services of Family Tree. Or 23&Me. Or Ancestry. Or any other outfit that will try to profit from decoding "your" DNA for whatever reason.

    50 things can happen...and I can't think of any one of them that are good.

  29. TheresaJayne

    I actually do not see any problem with this, The FBI doesnt have access to all the data, what they have is the ability to enter the DNA from a crime scene and search the DB with it finding matches or familial matches to help locate criminals. Whats the problem, it just means they can pinpoint someone who commits a crime easily even if they have not had their DNA stored by the police in the past.

    1. Bruce Ordway

      I actually do not see any problem

      >>enter the DNA from a crime scene....search the DB... matches or familial matches.... criminals

      >>do not see any problem

      The amount of variables involved and the opportunity for mistakes is what concerns me.

      Even if law enforcement has good intentions with the use of DNA, there are plenty of examples for them reaching the wrong conclusions.

      https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/02/dna-in-the-dock-how-flawed-techniques-send-innocent-people-to-prison

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