Report: DNA testing company shared customer data with FBI

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An at-home DNA testing company has admitted to sharing customers’ data with the FBI, according to a report in The New York Times, and here is their updated statement:

“As specified in FamilyTreeDNA’s Terms of Service – law enforcement can only receive information not already accessible to the standard user by providing FamilyTreeDNA with valid legal process, such as a subpoena or a search warrant.  Working with law enforcement to process DNA samples from the scene of a violent crime or identifying an unknown victim does not change our policy never to sell or barter our customers’ private information with a third party. Our policy remains fully intact and in force.”

FamilyTreeDNA claims that customers’ genetic information is kept private, but the newspaper reports that the company admitted to voluntarily giving federal investigators access.

“The DNA information is out there and is currently being used to potentially convict or identify individuals who've committed a crime,” says Beth Pletcher, associate professor at Rutgers Medical School.

FamilyTreeDNA president Bennett Greenspan defended the company’s position, but also apologized to the customers, according to the New York Times.

“I am genuinely sorry for not having handled our communications with you as we should have,” Greenspan wrote, according to a copy of the apology obtained by the newspaper. “We’ve received an incredible amount of support from those of you who believe this is an opportunity for honest, law-abiding citizens to help catch bad guys and bring closure to devastated families.”

Customers who want to protect their information should be sure to read the fine print on what they sign up for and be sure to mark off any options that allow their information to be private.

“The people who give their DNA have an option to allow that information to be used or not,” says Pletcher.

According to the New York Times, FamilyTreeDNA says its lab received less than 10 samples from the FBI.

The latest controversy comes nearly a year after police used a genealogy website to catch alleged “Golden State Killer” Joseph James DeAngelo.

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