As a history buff Ancestry.com has always interested me. I’d love to trace back my family lineage. But the public-private surveillance partnership has held me back.
I figured it was only a matter of time until government agents began demanding genetic records from services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. Once again my paranoia turned out to be prophetic (not because I’m so smart but because it was so bloody obvious):
Now, five years later, when 23andMe and Ancestry both have over a million customers, those warnings are looking prescient. “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect,” warns Wired, writing about a case from earlier this year, in which New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry became a suspect in an unsolved murder case after cops did a familial genetic search using semen collected in 1996. The cops searched an Ancestry.com database and got a familial match to a saliva sample Usry’s father had given years earlier. Usry was ultimately determined to be innocent and the Electronic Frontier Foundation called it a “wild goose chase” that demonstrated “the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases.”
Both Ancestry.com and 23andMe stipulate in their privacy policies that they will turn information over to law enforcement if served with a court order. 23andMe says it’s received a couple of requests from both state law enforcement and the FBI, but that it has “successfully resisted them.”
As a general rule I’m wary of any service that collects information the State wouldn’t normally have. I know any personal information collected on me by a service provider is a single court order away from being in the hands of the State.
This is a problem many libertarians fail to fully realize. They make a stark distinction between corporate and government surveillance and fail to realize the former becomes the latter at the whim of a judge. If it wasn’t for the State’s power to obtain private records I wouldn’t be as concerned with corporate surveillance since companies aren’t in a habit of sending armed goons to my door to shoot my dog and kidnap me.