But, but, but… What about 4th Amendment rights? What about any privacy agreements?
This of course is over the BuzzFeed (1st) story that broke Jan 28th/Feb 1st that our much beloved and trusted-like-G-ds-themselves company, Family Tree DNA, has been making deals with law enforcement.
I think this betrayal of trust is so egregious there is nothing I can think of to compare this to other than a personal violation. I am stunned to see this company making changes — and with no notification. What began a few years ago as genes-in-genealogy fun became a death sentence over pre-existing conditions, pre-screening of brides and grooms and fetuses, and now the latest: ‘Are you related to a serial killer’? I wrote (facetiously) last year that this should be the next feature on Gedmatch – like, ‘Are your parents related?’ or, ‘Guess your eye color.’ See last year’s blogs on Gedmatch.
There is no problem that they decided to make deals with law enforcement. The problem is no one had a choice. I gave many people my word that this company, of all companies, would never … not without notice! Now we are learning about it after the fact and from news stories!
For me it is not that I would be opposed to using all DNA for good – I am for it – regulated. The problem is that ftDNA has not been upfront about it. I have encouraged people to add their DNA to Gedmatch in my blogs from the beginning just to help law enforcement. But they can decide to do this or not. This is about the trust between Family Tree DNA and their customers.
For 15 years I sang their praises, talking about the honor of this company, besides their expertise and of course the fact that Family Tree DNA tests the much loved y-DNA and mt-DNA and our haplogroups. I feel betrayed. It is like coming home to find he took all his stuff and left with no notice. OK, OK they haven’t gone anywhere – but it is like a domestic tiff – “but you promised…”
And of course it is like the guy that promises he will not put it in…
Yes, technically they are not sharing – but yes – this is like one of those things a politician says, and then later says something slightly different, with a drastically different outcome, and says you misunderstood, or that is not what…
Their previous terms of service implied what would and would not happen. And, there is no doubt that terms of service could change anytime, but with ftDNA one could believe, if it were going to change, all the customers would be notified in advance. Previous: (not) “for any law enforcement purposes, forensic examinations, criminal investigations, and/or similar purposes without the required legal documentation and written permission from FamilyTreeDNA.”
Of course, I am not going anywhere; I will obediently remain on my knees in worship of the ftDNA I love so much, but that does not mean I don’t have a right to cry; this was rude! How little faith they had in their customers that we would not get on board – to help many causes. And we had to learn it on Facebook – from the shared news.
I vouched, and said, Family Tree DNA is always upfront, will always be upfront.
ftDNA always makes announcements in advance…
As with the initial Gedmatch announcement last year – there was a rush to quit by many. But quickly there was also a rush of new people to upload, to help and there will be here also. I imagine now I can ask more family who tested only with AncestryDNA, or 23andme, or MyHeritage etc to come on over – we will find family and enjoy the surge in new matches – upload to ftDNA.
It is true that more than 10 years ago I was saying to everyone I helped: If you are not prepared to find new and unexpected family and a lack of expected family – don’t test; and if you could be wanted for an indictable crime where DNA might be used – don’t test!
I was laughed at 10 plus years ago for those words, and I say now – I told you so…
This is the company where we could feel safe to have our minor children and grandchildren and great grandchildren test.
“Last summer, FamilyTree DNA was among a list of consumer genetic testing companies that agreed to a suite of voluntary privacy guidelines, but as of Friday morning, it had been crossed off the list.
“The deal between FamilyTreeDNA and the FBI is deeply flawed,” said John Verdi, vice president of policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, which maintains the list. “It’s out of line with industry best practices, it’s out of line with what leaders in the space do and it’s out of line with consumer expectations.”
Many of us who have helped others understand that we have already encountered many rapists. No way to know about killers. But we see and we help people looking for biological family, and like it or not, face it or not, many of these encounters that resulted in pregnancies were forced – one way or another. Whether they were this century, the last, or 250 years ago, we see them in results.
Some of us might even have discovered our own half siblings and wondered – did daddy force her mother?
We must know that often the encounters would have been forced.
Years ago I found and contacted the father of a lady, but the search had turned up disturbing issues and the lady suddenly decided she didn’t want to pursue it. She said she did not even want to know what he had told me.
I was relieved. The nasty old man had given me a terrible answer — that the father could have been anybody in the house or on the street. The girl, the housemaid, was 13 according to one record and and maybe as old as 15 in another record at the time of the pregnancy.
Another guy described a woman as the whore of Bibbville Road.
Another teen-age girl, a maid in a home, was thrown out on the streets in Scotland in shame after becoming pregnant. The DNA shows exactly who the offender was, her employer.
In 1857 we know one of the three Smith males in a County or their father impregnated the girl down the road. Most the the families involved had moved away by the next census.
(All the people I mention above are now passed, there are many other examples, but there are still living people whose feelings could be crushed)
In countless colonial US records there are pleas in courts by indentured servants complaining about the rapists running loose in the countryside and how the servants wish for law enforcement help. And of course the horrors of slavery. And how shall we meet our family? We need healing for all involved, and there should be responsibility — at least caring to not get the news on Facebook from BuzzFeed.
People can see unmarried women having children. Please do not condemn; remember and realize there was trauma and often there is still trauma, and in catching criminals the matches are going to be much closer than six degrees of separation from some of the worst of the country’s and the world’s worst bad guys.
This MUST mean that they also will have access to y-search and mito-search – in that case give access back to us also!
And while they are at it – they need to turn on the old DNA that was turned off because of dead people – we have a right to this and law enforcement could certainly use that.
In the BuzzFeed article, ftDNA said that if people don’t like it they can “opt out.” Well the European people covered by GDPR did not have that chance – but this arrogant demand also shows no respect for their devoted customers – many of which have been with ftDNA since the first testing – or close to it – and moreover it shows no imagination – and no faith in the customers.
There could have been a new tier of working to save humanity from criminals, and we could have been invited to ‘opt in’ instead of being thrown out. It speaks to what we, as customers, are really thought of.
But we will not be able to opt out of the suspicions; will we carry the genes for violent behaviors? for cancers? for heart disease?
Yes, they now know everything about us, and as time goes on will know more and more. And not only did we give it to them voluntarily; we actually paid for the privilege.
This is only the disappointment of a nobody. Even a hero like Mr Greenspan has no statement to offer to customers other than, ‘they can opt out.’
I have cried all day
Additional links about this and related subjects
I hear on good authority that there will be also the bittersweet attempts to identify John and Jane Does and military personnel. Of course. Let me give freely of my DNA and my help. But ftDNA always implied a privacy – a way to be shielded from some of the pain.
But – let’s not forget the possibilities for mistakes.
How many times have we had to remind people that you can’t always trace a 6th cousin once removed? Checks and balances? Understanding of X-genes and on and on? Countless mistakes have already been discovered.
Thoughts from the Legal Genealogist – you must read this site always for questions
Their last as of THIS writing update
Added medical –
There is a reason that data privacy laws were enacted around the world, and before this took place customers should have been told. Today reading genes for violent behavior or an inability to control impulses or any other ‘issue’ might still seem like science fiction, but this is common practice now. Sure I am happy for the good guys to catch the bad guys – and in the process see… and make a file on matches. Matches that might…
I will go search for a more recent article by a geneticist who saw in his own DNA some of the genes for a propensity for violent behavior. I did not want to read it and I did not note it. I will have to go find it. This researcher mentioned nurture’s role and I thought he was grappling to say he would not have those genes to manifest since he had enjoyed a stable upbringing. But it seemed to me a hidden groping and hoping as opposed to being sure of anything.
Countless articles and studies on genes and violent behaviors – we are not one step away – we are there.
Who will support us to learn this news- about ourselves?