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One of the Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working with the FBI (buzzfeednews.com)
677 points by chollida1 on Feb 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 314 comments

Few people taking theses tests understand or care about the privacy-destroying effect of what they're doing to themselves and their families.

For example, this is from the AncestryDNA (different company) terms of service:

By submitting User Provided Content to AncestryDNA, you grant AncestryDNA and the Ancestry Group Companies a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, sublicensable, transferable license to host, transfer, process, analyze, distribute, communicate, and display your submission for the purposes of providing Ancestry's products and services, conducting Ancestry’s research and product development, enhancing Ancestry’s user experience, and making and offering personalized products and services.


There's a feel-good statement elsewhere in the document about how the company won't disclose your info to third parties, but this grant of rights pretty much covers anything you'd want to do with a DNA sequence.

Privacy policies change, but grants of rights like this to a service like Ancestry are forever.

I imagine a future in which every casual DNA company has been hoovered into a single powerful corporation. All those rights granted by users will transfer to that new company. That company will be just as mean as Facebook (or Microsoft in its heyday), but 10x more powerful.

> and their families

That's how a local cold murder case was solved last year.

DNA from a 25-year-old crime scene was run against the samples in one of these genealogy databases, and they found a familial match. Police set up a sting to covertly collect DNA from that person's immediate family. They got their DNA match with a brother's water bottle police took from a trash can after he worked a DJ gig at a school.


The now-confessed killer was the DJ at my wedding. He never would have been caught if his brother hadn't done one of these genealogy tests. He wasn't even a suspect in the initial investigation.

Total surveillance or global DNA law enforcement database would solve many murders and prevent wrongful convictions. However, it would also give many opportunities for framing convenient suspects and "encouraging" confessions.

I am sure your case was above board but, being born in a totalitarian state, I do not trust law enforcement too much and prefer to err on the side of not solving some crimes. My 2c.

The UK takes DNA samples of every person arrested. There it's controlled by the government. In the US, it's held privately. Both situations are disturbing.

The US also takes DNA and prints from arrestees and maintains it in a federal database (CODIS for DNA, FBI for prints).

Same here. However, I have no illusions about stopping any of this. The global panopticon is just too useful for authoritarians.

So my solution is to avoid attracting any attention in meatspace. Not doing anything that could generate troublesome records. Such as leaving DNA around. I mean, I certainly leave DNA around, when I go out for stuff. But there's nothing involved that I need to hide.

I also make no effort to hide anything that I do online as my meatspace persona. Because that would attract attention. I do use a VPN service, but that's not at all unusual where I live. And I do torrent some, even when I'm not really after anything. Just as cover.

Anything potentially troublesome, I do via nested VPN chains and Tor. Mirimir just uses nested VPN chains. But then Mirimir just writes about stuff, so hey.

This has to be one of the strangest replies I’ve ever read on HN.

Off to google the term “meatspace” now.

Well, there was the "Meat Puppets", formed in 1980.

And then Terry Bisson's "They're Made Out of Meat", published in 1990:[0]

> "They're made out of meat."

> "Meat?"

> "Meat. They're made out of meat."

> "Meat?"

> "There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

So yeah, it's a term that we old geeks use.

Recent usage by John Markoff:

> "True Names" by Vernor Vinge (1981): "The basic premise of that was, you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today … We have to figure it out. I think we have to go to pseudonymity or something. You’re gonna participate in this networked existence, you have to be connected to meatspace in some way."

And yes, we "have to go to pseudonymity or something". If we care about privacy, anyway.

0) http://www.terrybisson.com/page6/page6.html

1) http://renaissancechambara.jp/2017/06/14/oprah-time-true-nam...


Goes back to the earliest days of online existence, to distinguish the two.

> And I do torrent some, even when I'm not really after anything.

I’d like to subscribe to your RSS feed of magnet: links.

I typically search TPB for recent action and horror films. Especially new Miike stuff.

> Total surveillance or global DNA law enforcement database would solve many murders and prevent wrongful convictions. However, it would also give many opportunities for framing convenient suspects and "encouraging" confessions.

I am afraid it could cause wrongful convictions as well. Let's say there is a 1 in a million chance of a false positive, if you have an enormous database there is a large probability of a false positive even though your individual risk is low. As far as I understand DNA evidence is often damaged or incomplete, meaning this could be a serious risk.

Increase in the ratio of solved crimes will make society less tolerant of wrongful convictions.

If ratio of solved crimes is not high enough -- society tolerates wrongful convictions -- because without risking wrongful convictions it is hard to make any convictions at all.

Because DNA testing increases the ratio of solved crimes, it decreases the chances of wrongful convictions.

So, as with all things which can be good or bad depending on use, we allow people to voluntarily choose whether to participate. What’s the problem?

The problem is the that genetic data discloses PII on other people without their consent. It cannot be a fully voluntary system.

Lack of truly informed consent

Yes, the panopticon is a dangerous ideal. :/ Given enough technological progress, if everyone's DNA were kept in a database, that's a juicy target for any numbers of crimes, misuse, violence, privacy invasion and stalking, i.e., hackers break-in in order to selectively extort rich people with engineered diseases (sounds like a Black Mirror script).

How would it let you frame convenient suspects? Surely you would need to place that suspects DNA at the scene, in which case you already have it...? Where does the database come into this?

> Where does the database come into this?

"The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person." [0]

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18dna.html

> if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile

Oh wow. Really??? Any experts in this field reading this? Would love to hear someone with pertinent authority tell us this isn't true. (Please don't be true)

It is simple to do, assuming the police are using genotyping instead of a full genome sequence for the match. (This is the common case today.)

Genotyping works as follows: there are thousands of regions of “junk” dna in the human genome that don’t code for anything. There is no evolutionary pressure to preserve the exact length of these regions. (They probably help the chromosomes fold up in ways that encourage/suppress the activity of certain genes, help the molecule be more robust, etc).

Since there is no evolutionary pressure to preserve the regions, they tend to be full of hard to copy junk like ATAT..... that tends to change every few generations.

Genotyping works by isolating a bunch of these regions, and using PCR to create millions of copies of each region (with ~one sample per region).

Finally, you put a drop of the each sample and some die on a electrophoresis gel, and apply some current. Different sized molecules move at different rates, so this gives you a crude measurement of the length of each molecule.

To fake a match, all you need to do is produce something that will trick the first step of all this into grabbing molecules of your choice of length, which will fool the rest of the process. If you want to see how that would work, read up on “pcr primers”.

Source: I used to work in a genotyping/sequencing lab as a bioinformatician, and worked on algorithms that did exactly this sort of analysis (not the forgery bit though).

Hey, that's just like fake video.

So you could fake everything. Video surveillance, DNA samples, testimony from dishonest informers and investigators, etc. This is just a tweak to parallel construction. And outright framing.

DNA is supposed to be supporting evidence of guilt (A number i've heard thrown around is it narrows down to 1 in 1m, with >300m people in the US that is still not perfect).

Instead CSI has taught your average juror that it is irrefutable proof of guilt.

There links in that NY Times article and they look like reasonable sources.

> Surely you would need to place that suspects DNA at the scene

Don't underestimate DNA transfer. Your DNA can end up in locations you have never been:


Right now you do not have a convenient way to force your target to submit to a DNA test. This way you can frame someone by placing their DNA at the crime scene and then having it "discovered" using DNA testing company data.

Because there is a line when framing people never to be crossed ;) come on throw in a shoe print,a witness, fake signature. something extra

Just because the government finds your DNA at the crime scene doesn't mean they know it's yours. They have to match it against some sort of database that connects the DNA to your identity.

There's a case against globally accessible DNA databases from the point of view of dragnet approaches picking up people whose connection to the crime scene is either totally incidental or actually nonexistent and purely down to data mixups, but that's a largely separate issue from authoritarian police trying to massage the evidence in a case against a particular person.

If you're already a "convenient suspect" the police wish to build a case against, they don't need to find you on a consumer genetics database to be able to obtain a sample of your DNA or strongly hint that they expect to be able to use DNA evidence (truthfully or otherwise) to send you away for a very long time if you're not willing to consider moving to plea bargaining territory.

With enough corruption, they might also "find" it on the crime scene.

Exactly, while DNA may identify an individual with high precision, we have to trust that that DNA was actually associated with the location or event.

Consider a public bathroom: how much DNA is at that location? How much is relevant to the event?

Consider a corrupt lab tech: The DNA at the event might be reported as DNA from their database. Does a defense attorney get to see the untainted sample?

Consider a corrupt/hacked DNA database: The database might report that the DNA belongs to one individual when it actually doesn't. Does a defense attorney even get to see the source code?

In these scenarios, the link to any individual is either of little consequence, or fraudulent.

And in case this sounds implausible, a corrupt lab tech handled 60,000 cases in MA:


With Pcr you’d only need a very small sample to produce enough DNA to smother a crime scene in “evidence”

That's wonderful if the crime is something clear-cut like murder. We can generally all agree that it is unethical and worthy of punishment.

What if it's something we can't quite agree on, or tyranny of the majority? Joe McCarthy happened once, and he didn't give a shit about ex post facto. Presuming someone like him will never come along again is a road to pain and suffering.

Spend ten minutes reading about what Crypto-Judaism is and why it is even a thing. Then look at abuse of power (I've known 2 people who have had LEOs as stalkers). A big part of warrant law is the premise that you don't give people information they don't need 'just because'. Very similar to the computing concept of Principle of Least Power. They prove they need it, you give it to them, but not a moment before, because who knows what they'll get up to.

> I've known 2 people who have had LEOs as stalkers

What's an LEO? My first thought is Low Earth Orbit, but obviously that's not right. Googling "leo" and "leo stalker" doesn't bring up much apart from horoscopes.

Law Enforcement Officer

Indeed. Not that I plan on being involved in any such crimes (necessary disclaimer?) but a family member of mine submitted their DNA to one of these services. Now it's irrelevant whether I submit mine or not because it's as good as in there anyway. Feels real good having your rights signed away by someone else...

What rights? Surely if you have rights to your DNA, then your family member has rights to their DNA. It’s just an unfortunate consequence of how DNA works.

It is probably wrong to think of DNA as personal property. Its public use more closely resembles a commons which is shared by many. We don't give individuals the right to pollute air, for instance, simply because they own property that has air on it.

Likewise we should develop principles for information which when combined with other information can be used to transgress against 3rd parties' enjoyment of their own privacy.

> Itis probably wrong to think of DNA as personal property.

DNA cannot be thought of any other way whilst we continue to use it for personal identification.

We don't have another mechanism for protecting something uniquely identifying from tyranny.

Perhaps we should, especially as in this case others privacy may be co-dependent on myself, as you noted.

In the US we absolutely don't treat DNA as personal property.

For instance, there's no need to get a warrant to follow you around and pick up something that you discard and then examine that object for DNA.


I think you're missing an important way of looking at DNA. It is clear that most people view the details in their DNA as being specific, private information about themselves and want to have control of what can be done with it.

DNA is also shared, however. A relative can currently choose to reveal private information in their DNA that also reveals information that you consider private in your DNA. This is the way in which DNA has a shared or commons aspect.

My point is that the shared nature of DNA means we have to look outside of individual actions to preserve the privacy rights that many seem to want preserved. In other words, I shouldn't be able to use my DNA to reveal private information about anyone else.

Given that you leave DNA all over the place, we should really ask if DNA is indeed actually private. In many regards it seems less private than your facial features as I don't routinely leave my facial features on restaurant silverware.

DNA dies in a day.

That Dropcam stream Google flagged your facial fingerprint on...not so much.

Is there anything quite as shared as DNA? You share 99.xxx percent with everyone else. You share a significant portion with other species. Other living things.

Also, we can't conflate DNA and one's specific DNA sequence. It's like the majority of the code is GPL.

> Is there anything quite as shared as DNA?

Music for example. The same poool of musical notes in 100% of compositions. Just arranged in different ways, like DNA

Completely wrong analogy. Most genes sequences are completely identical between humans. The differences in genes for specific traits are marginal, percentage wise.

And everybody uses a microphone, guitar, bass, keyboard and some kind of cowbell. trebble clef, bass clef, verse, hooks, a chorus, tempo, allegro, presto, bits per minute... completely identical in many songs.

Hmm, I would have guessed differently but I was also an undergrad biology dropout :/ wasn’t concrete enough for me.

FWIW I can see where he was coming from.

This exact scenario is what I find to be a call to a fullness of individualism to be quite inappropriate. We are not just ourselves, but of our parents and grandparents, and of our children. And to forget our lineage is to forget ourselves, in part at least.

> We don't give individuals the right to pollute air, for instance, simply because they own property that has air on it

Lol, what planet do you live on? Sounds dope.

The battles to price externalities into markets here on Earth are all hard fought. By default if you can’t see it you don’t pay for it. Anything beyond that needs to be pounded out in the political ring.

No, it’s an unfortunate consequence of how the dna test provider treats everyone’s data.

It’s incredibly empowering for abuse and completely disrespectful to the individual. The assymetry is staggering.

What if a court compels the analysis or data sharing?

That migrates the issue from business ethics and consumer rights to that of legality.

The fbi has is own database. Of course having everyone’s dna will help them solve a few (one?) more crimes. At what cost?

They just solved the murder of a child near my house using a technique like this.

My understanding is they asked everyone they could find in a specific ethnic community if they would volunteer a sample for a kind of dna dragnet.

The killer was related to one of the many people sampled.

If the DNA was gathered for one specific purpose like this and not kept on file, I think that's pretty unobjectionable. As soon as it's on file in a database, though, there's potential for uses further and further removed from those envisioned by the owners when they gave the samples.

Now you can refuse to support prosecution against family, but your DNA can't.

> The now-confessed killer was the DJ at my wedding.

That is a bit morbid.

The biggest insult is that you're paying them money to violate your privacy.

Some links I've seen for DIY thermocycling [1] https://openpcr.org/ [2] https://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-PCR-thermal-cycler-...

Hope this becomes more of a thing. This is one of the fields where a non-cloud or decentralized solution is more desirable.

I wonder if there's an alternate universe where people are PAID to use this service. Where the company is upfront about buying your data from you because they intend on making a ton of money from it later on, maybe for nefarious means, maybe to try and cure some disease, I don't know if that part of it matters.

Anyway, I wonder if people would be skeptical of the company's motives to the point where they don't want to give up their data or if they'd still just really want that cool DNA sequence art and to have a laugh about having 7% unexpected DNA.

> There's a feel-good statement elsewhere in the document about how the company won't disclose your info to third parties

Can a lawyer answer whether or not such promises apply to an acquiring company, should they ever be sold?

>what they're doing to themselves and their families.

This only encourages me. My DNA is on record in various places, and if any relative of mine commits a crime I want the honor of being the person who fucked them and sent them to prison. I would tout the event as an esteemed accomplishment.

Everyone seems to be worried about a sci-fi movie where clones are made from cheek swabs or corporations use DNA to deny certain services.

The former is a pipe dream and the latter is already (partially) illegal in the US via the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.

If evilmegacorp is going to break the law today then they'll break it tomorrow as well.

Every conceivable scenario in which DNA can be used to harm an individual can be answered with "well a bad actor can already do that today using different methods".

As far as I'm concerned a database of DNA is no different than a database of mugshots or fingerprints.

Mugshots and fingerprints have both led to false-positives being reported.

"Oh but DNA might lead to a false-positive so it must never be used" differs little from "eyewitness testimony, mugshots, fingerprint analysis, confessions, and every single investigative technique ever used in the history of humanity has unassailably led to false positives therefore they should all be banned".

As a certain Chinese person recently learned, you can start a trip in Country A, get arrested on a stopover in Country B on your way to Country C, accused of breaking the laws of Country D because you (allegedly) did business in Country E through a subsidiary in Country F.

I’m worried about getting deported to Saudi Arabia (never been) because I drank alcohol in my home country, but happen to stopover in a country that yields to large cash payments to enforce its extra-territorial laws.

Which countries are you currently not flying into?

I ask because it would help us gauge how worried you are.

Well, the US is #1 by GDP, China is #2 and Canada (the pushover) is #10. Saudi Arabia is #18, so going by the evidence, us alcohol enjoyers should consider staying out of countries with #28 rank GDP or less, as they could fall over for S. Arabia.

All based on one crude comparison between countries. But you don't see the USA arresting too many people for violating other country's laws.

So is that not very worried or not at all worried?

Uhhh, those mean the same thing, no?

Anywho, even if I think I know I'm safe, a billionaire CFO with far more legal resources than I could dream of has been wrong.

Right up until that crime happens to be homosexuality (oh you meant western values crimes...)

Or you can't get a job because you're closely related to a felon.

Or a loan because you are closely related to someone who filed for bankruptcy.

I could go on. There's more "ors" here than on a viking raiding ship.

The underlying presumption here is that there is business value in establishing the genetic link.

If there's a real link between genetics and bankruptcy, maybe we should figure that shit out (with the idea of doing pleasant, voluntary, educational interventions). If there isn't and banks use the info anyway, someone will make a good business out of ignoring the information.

Which isn't to say I approve of the privacy destroying business model these companies are trying to establish.

Good idea. We handled that so well with race, we should start right away.

Huh? Homosexuality was illegal in many parts of The West until very recently. I wouldn’t be surprised if it still is some places.

And is it true that homosexuality is banned throughout the east?

What’s the word for when you are ignorant of something your whole life and then you get enlightened and then immediately feel entitled to point out how much better you are than everyone else who is still ignorant? I feel like that’s what you’re doing here.

(To be clear, I have no problem with your point about homosexuality laws. I’m just objecting to your notion of what’s eastern and western. Seems like a lot of people think western=quintessential liberalism, eastern=Saudi Arabia, which is just xenophobic nonsense)

What crimes would exactly would you be proud to sell your relatives down the river for? Genuinely curious if all acts that can/could be labeled as a crime by the government of the time would count.

There's a fair amount of historical and current laws that have arguably zero moral good; Homophobic, Segregationist, etc.. all around the world.

But alas, There's you cheerily pointing out anyone you can help identify because, it's the law after all.

As a German, I see many problems with this point of view. What is a crime can change fast, and it can also mean just being of the wrong group. Don't think it can't and won't happen again.

Exactly. People who proudly tell you that they have nothing to hide never seem to understand that they aren't the ones who decide whether or not they have something to hide.

Or isn't currently happening in other countries. The people here who think nothing is wrong would probably be arrested for something if they lived in another country. I can't travel to many countries because I would be at risk of being arrested for being gay.

Just imagine if we had the technology to identify that through DNA samples.

It's a bit of an aside, but I have such respect for you Germans when it comes to owning up to past transgressions. In my experience, when the topic of WWII has come up, it's always been a matter of, "Yes, we fucked up. Now, how do we prevent it from happening again?"

My ancestors came to the USA after the Civil War, so _I_ have no real stake in this, but I married into a family from the midwest/south who has been in the US for many generations and I'm regularly floored when I hear people make claims about how the Civil War was actually about states' rights (to own human beings ...) and such. It seems like these people are still mostly concerned with trying to save face, as opposed to admitting that their forbears _royally_ screwed up and trying to learn and adapt from the episode.

Homosexuality was once a crime in the US. So was crossdressing. So was sodomy. At one time a woman could be jailed if it was found she cast a ballot illegally. Consuming cannibals use to be totally legal, then it wasn't and now it sorta is, but only on a State-by-state basis and only because Federal courts haven't made concrete rulings. In the UK and France, it's illegal to draw underage Simpsons characters in sexual activity, but in the US and Japan it's legal (or at least a gray area). The law changes, and prohibition shows that those changes are not always for the better.

Cannibals? You might want to edit that.

What about accidental harm because your DNA or a relative’s DNA managed to end up at a crime scene, or bad lab procedures produce a false match?

>Most notoriously, Brandon Mayfield, an American lawyer, was wrongly linked by four fingerprint experts to the 2004 Madrid train bombing. He was arrested and detained for two weeks, before investigators realised that an Algerian man, Ouhnane Daoud, was the real source of the print.


Should law enforcement be prohibited from fingerprinting objects found at crime scenes?


Fingerprints lack scientific basis for legal certainty More research into validity of fingerprint comparisons needed Date: October 5, 2017 Source: Carnegie Mellon University Summary: A new report on the quality of latent fingerprint analysis says that courtroom testimony and reports stating or even implying that fingerprints collected from a crime scene belong to a single person are indefensible and lack scientific foundation.


Fingerprinting to solve crimes: not as robust as you think


The main problem with fingerprint analysis is one consistent with many other areas of forensic science: subjectivity. Instead of relying on tested scientific methods, the process is mostly based on the subjective beliefs of the analyst... Despite this subjectivity, fingerprint analysts also typically testify in terms of absolute certainty.


Fingerprints: Not a Gold Standard

So to answer your question: Should law enforcement be prohibited from fingerprinting objects found at crime scenes?

You tell me.

Which is why DNA and fingerprint evidence is so valuable as corroborating evidence (person x dna was at the scene and their car was seen at the area), and so hopeless as a dragnet. If everyone in the USA was in a DNA database almost every test would show multiple matches.

Then there is the issue of transference. Person x dna found on housemate y's underwear... rape or shared washing machine?

It wouldn't be that hard to increase the number of DNA features needed to make the chance of accidental match in the database exponentially small.

Fingerprinting is a notoriously inaccurate pseudoscience along with polygraph testing.

As was seen on HN[1], consumer DNA tests are also inaccurate. In fact, up to 40% of gene variants on consumer DNA tests are false positives[2]. False positives happen with criminal investigations and DNA testing[3]. And now, consumer DNA databases are generating false positives[4] that upend and potentially ruin innocent people's lives.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18938750

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/gim201838

[3] https://gizmodo.com/when-bad-dna-tests-lead-to-false-convict...

[4] https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/article_1b3a3f9...

Fingerprinting is inaccurate.

DNA tests are inaccurate.

Witness statements are inaccurate.

Confessions are inaccurate.

Thanks to deepfakes, video is inaccurate.

Someone steals your car, eyewitnesses claim they saw them in possession of it, their fingerprints are in it, their hair is in it, a gas station security camera recorded them in it, cops found them in it, and they confessed.

"Your honor that evidence is, in order, a stress-induced misrecognition, a flawed analysis, pseudoscience, tampered with, a setup, and coerced."

What remains?

What remains is an understanding of statistics and probability applied to scientifically studied accuracy rates of the various evidence available. Combining error-prone evidence can give fairly certain results.

Any one of those could be wrong but all of them together are almost impossible to fake. The source of the video is also important. What incentive does a petrol station have to fake a car theft? If you can prove that the station owner is somehow involved then that changes things.

Maybe. The more relevant question here would be: would you pay some company to get yourself fingerprinted and have them put your prints in a big database for police to use when solving crimes?

The difference is, fingerprints would only finger you. Your DNA can finger thousands of distantly related people who are not you.

I applaud your thinking. But in the real world, things can get ugly very very quickly as the original commenter said. Even worse, imagine your DNA results score being used as part of employment qualification checks! When the greed of $$ is involved, ethics take a backseat in almost all corporate decision making, and good willed but naive persons get trampled.

In the US, it is already illegal for genetic information to be used as a qualification for employment.

(a) Discrimination Based on Genetic Information.--It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer--

(1) to fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any employee, or otherwise to discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify the employees of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any employee of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status of the employee as an employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee.


> In the US, it is already illegal for genetic information to be used as a qualification for employment.


In the US, it is currently illegal for genetic information to be used as a qualification for employment.

Your DNA never changes. Once it's on record it's on record. This isn't like prohibition where as long as you quit before the law comes into effect you are safe.

If there is ever a future time you can be punished for your DNA, the only people who can possibly be 'grandfathered' in are the ones who've avoided submitting their DNA in the first place. Everyone else can be punished after the fact.

> If there is ever a future time you can be punished for your DNA, the only people who can possibly be 'grandfathered' in are the ones who've avoided submitting their DNA in the first place.

I don't support the point of view of the GP but in all fairness, if we come to the society where DNA is used for widespread discrimination, it will probably be semi-voluntarily collected from the majority of the citizens anyway (e.g. want to have a driver's license? submit the DNA)

If some future hell has us ruining people because of their DNA, it's not gonna be opt in. At least not for very long.

Most of the problems today with privacy are opt-in. There's also a national security argument for dragnet surveillance. For another potential justification, I'll just throw in a great, older movie and a good, newer one:



Laws and governments change. They can change radically very quickly. That DNA database isn't going anywhere though.

It's pretty easy to not hire someone and say it was for something other than something you found in a DNA sample.

Your putting the onus on me to prove that it was explicitly the results of my test that caused me not to be hired.

You are only thinking about now. Do you think things will be the same in 20 years?

Best of luck.

We all need that luck.

Does anyone else feel like there's a growing assumption of benevolent governments and states? It might just be my own anecdotal experience, but I'm constantly surprised at how often people overlook the entire point of the 4th and 5th Amendment because Western states have been "mostly better" (these are both relative qualifiers, I am NOT saying they're perfect) in the last 10-30 years.

This entire post read as if there's not dirty cops all over the US doing asset forfeiture, planting evidence, shooting innocents, raiding the wrong houses...why does anyone believe that giving those agents ANOTHER tool, and one that's seen in the general public as even more legitimate? (It's not the accuracy of the DNA match that's the problem, it's how easy it is to create false circumstances using someone's DNA, which is pretty easy to get.)

And all of this in a time when most of those same people (myself included) are decrying how horrible the federal government has recently become under Trump. Again, you want to give Trump and the people in his administration another tool for muddying the waters around his opponents?

Going even further, any of these genealogy companies could pull a full-on Cambridge Analytics like Facebook and just leak all our DNA to some private company operating on behalf of a foreign government.

The problem with your position is that dirty governments win not by access to information, but by controlling the processes of our government.

Police don't really need to plant evidence when they are believed over defendants to begin with. Go listen to the latest season of the Series podcast. Or the Reply All episodes about the police in NYC.

If a corrupt cop wants to take you down, they don't need any of this.

Reading the comments on this thread, I was getting exactly the opposite impression. So many people don't trust the government at all, and don't want them to be able to enforce laws. I suppose they'd prefer that the police force and justice system be disbanded.

"So many people" likely trust business even less than the government, and this is about handing your DNA over to businesses and government at the same time, for funsies. And that last part is quite an assumption.

You’re assuming that every crime anybody could possibly be accused of in the future is legitimate. What if the crime is ‘handed out pamphlets opposing the leader?’

>What if the crime is ‘handed out pamphlets opposing the leader?’

That has been a crime in many places at various times in the past. The non-existence of a DNA database did nothing to prevent the existence of totalitarian governments, and would likely do nothing to promote them.

That's the thing about totalitarians. They don't care about the facts, if they want to get you they'll get you regardless of what the DNA says, in its absence they'll just come up with something else like the bumps found on your skull or distance between your eyes or the volume at which your voice has been measured praising the leader.

Why would a totalitarian system rely on DNA evidence when they can just go "our local comrade commissar has decreed that you are guilty and thus you are" and in regimes where there has to at least be a semblance of a show trial, they would just make up or cover up DNA-related findings to suit their whims.

Saying that DNA is dangerous because it may be used against someone in the future in some hypothetical situation is like saying "a list of person's names MUST NEVER be compiled because in the future a totalitarian leader may decide he doesn't like anyone whose name ends in a -ez or -stein."

And what happens when you insurance company drops you because of potential chronic illness or an employer doest call you back.

I think there will be an insurance market for these risks as well. We are all carrying around some kind of defects anyways and we get know more and more about the risk factors and how to prevent for breakouts or gain knowledge about working around them, maybe even repair or modify.

Sure, you can get insurance for anything. You might not be able to afford the premiums, but someone will happily take your money if you can.

Your naïve if you think that is how insurance works

What is your argument? Share your view of how an insurance work, so that we can compare.

OTOH , with other public services (administrative, police, healthcare) you re not even asked to agree to the terms.

Personally, I'm okay if my DNA sample helps catch a cousin, brother, or other family member that is a murderer/rapist/etc. Less okay with them using my sample for promotional material, but I've never really seen that done except for people who clearly consent(ie by starring in a commercial or photo shoot for the company).

Until false positives land you in prison. https://gizmodo.com/when-bad-dna-tests-lead-to-false-convict...

That is a general problem with DNA tests, regardless of how samples are collected or potential perpetrators are identified. And it seems like the solution is known and accepted by the courts now, at least in Taiwan: "don't rely on just 17 markers when performing DNA matching tests"

It’s not, however, a problem that can affect you if your DNA isn’t in any database in the first place.

The man in the linked story did not have his DNA in any database that the police used - they got his name volunteered from the people present at the crime scene. So yes it is a problem that can affect you if your DNA isn't in any database.

Until another regime shows up that decides to neuter or eradicate people with a specific trait.

Isn't this an argument against doing anything except living the life of a hermit deep in the woods?

Have a drivers license? Murderous regime will know where you live and come kill you.

Use the internet via an ISP? Murderous regime will know what you look at and come kill you.

History is littered with attempts at eradicating certain ethnicities and purging those deemed genetically inferior.

> Use the internet via an ISP? Murderous regime will know what you look at and come kill you.

This is a legitimate concern for some, hence why things like Tor exist. We don't just throw our hands up in the air and go, "What can be done?" We acknowledge that risk exists and try to mitigate it.

You can do this already with a gene drive, no need to identify everyone with the trait.

The term "At Home" is very disingenuous. Spitting in a tube at home and then mailing your DNA to a lab is not At Home. A proper at-home test would be a kit that allows you to decode your DNA at home without a single strand DNA or byte of data landing on a system that does not belong to you.

How long until this is feasible? I've heard of DNA sequencing machines for $2k, but are not easy or reliable.

I would gladly pay $2k to keep my data at home. To me, that is much cheaper than what it would cost to remove genetic data from multiple corporations and governments, if that is even feasible.

a genome is useless without a huge set of algorithms and datasets to analyse the genome

Agreed. That needs to be open source code, checked into a public repo with instructions that the average person can follow.

After a few years, I would expect that code to run on the device that enumerates the DNA.

Perhaps a RasPi with a daughter card or USB device that reads the DNA, similar to blood sugar testers.

I think you guys are onto something. At $100 a pop, my family, just counting out to first cousins, could buy a pretty nice sequencer.

The MinION is approaching this but you need really good prep work to get reliable results.

It wasn't that long ago that sequencing a single genome was several billion dollars. I bet it won't be that many more years until we will have home sequencing machines. Probably we'll chuckle at how we ever thought it was so complicated.

The analysis of your sequence is key. While there are some open source resources (hard for non-experts to use), the big consumer testing companies far and away have better analytical tools.

When anyone can sequence their DNA at home I expect this to change.

and then you have the genes, but zero algorithm to analyse them. feels unlikely that any company would rent offline copies of their analysis solutions, but you never know

Are the services that ancestry and ‘23 and me’ do provided at a loss and made up with the data or is it profitable?

Why aren’t there companies out there doing this at a higher cost without the privacy implications? Just give the user their data and decoding software that is regularly updated with current information.

Seems like low end machines are about $100,000 so it seems like this would work? I would pay 3-4 times as much if I knew I controlled the results.

Where are the privacy implications, most of these privacy "breaches" are just opt-in features, which you don't have to sign up for.

Even this one, which is the most extreme by so far:

> While the FBI does not have the ability to freely browse genetic profiles in the library

I am torn on this, as on the one hand it does violate privacy to a very large degree and provide massive power to the government. Things I am very much against.

On the other hand, essentially all this does is provide law enforcement a means to potentially quickly identify violent criminals via physical traits as opposed to the contents of their mind such as forcing someone to unlock a phone which I am very against.

Assuming DNA technology is advanced enough to provide few false positives (which I am not sure it is) and prosecution is based on additional concrete evidence as well I think I am fine with this. I am not ok with this being accepted as all that is needed to bring charges but as a means to narrow the suspect pool.

If the company did not disclose this in massive font to potential customers ahead of time, then I do think this company should very quickly go out of business.

The slippery slope though is a near Gattaca situation where now law enforcement and government can screen people for genetics flaws and make hiring decisions etc. based on them. Private companies should absolutely have no access to this data unless it is for scientific research and highly anonymized and customers have agreed to allow it.

`law enforcement a means to potentially quickly identify violent criminals`

Go ahead and replace "law enforcement" with political group you don't like, and "violent criminals" for a group you do.

Giving data to the FBI, and giving data to any random political group are very very different things. This straw man can probably be seen from space.

That random political group will one day be in power, or a larger political group will adopt their policies to take their votes.

Sure, maybe not, but maybe so. It does happen.

With regards to political groups, what would DNA tell you that their Facebook profile and network wouldn't?

Who their relatives are. One tool of political assassination is to out the <some bad thing> sibling of the { conservative | liberal } party candidate.

or in some countries actual assassinations or kidnappings of family members.

I would think that if they had any connection with them, there would be a Facebook link. If there is not even a Facebook connection, I doubt that the fact that a politician has <some bad thing> sibling that they don't really keep in touch with is going to be a big deal.

Oh, what a blissful #fakenews-less reality that would be.

But just because you know the names of the parents of someone doesn't mean that you know they happen to be cousins.

It could tell you who a masked protester was based on the blood they left behind on a rubber bullet left on the scene, or who sent a mailed-in tip to a newspaper based on saliva on the envelope.

Just as DNA can help you find who did a criminal act, it can track down who did a political act.

Replace "political group" with "ethnic or racial group".


People shouldn't be giving Facebook their info either.

With respect, if we hit this point, it really doesn't matter if the company wants to share the data or not, the government is taking it.

That is literally the exact reason why ever storing such data nonanonymously is a bad idea. It can and will be used.

sure, but if it was anonymized/encrypted/some kind of "only the owner can see this" they couldn't do anything with it.

I wouldn't underestimate the importance of technology.


I don't get it. What political groups rely heavily on not being identified? Most political groups have leaders whose identity is public knowledge.

> What political groups rely heavily on not being identified?

Resistances, opposition groups in some environments, etc.

I think it's less about the leaders of a group than about its members themselves.

When I read about the government having access to identification attributes of the general populace, I recall that a focal part of the Nazi attempts to eradicate European Jews was actually finding them. One theory for why Dutch Jews were killed at a higher rate than neighboring countries was that the government kept religious affiliation as part of its census information. IIRC, the Dutch resistance made a semi-successful attempt to destroy the records before they could be used. I can't find a direct reference to that particular event yet, hence my 'IIRC', but the general context is laid out in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netherlands_in_World_War_II.

I think the point here is that even if a government is being innocuous in its information gathering, what happens if the government is then occupied by a group that is entirely not innocuous? This can get much more subtle than genocide: for example healthcare groups using data to try to remove people with certain conditions from their rolls.

When the US was still a part of the British Empire, it was pretty important for revolutionaries not to be easily identified. Same with resistance fighters against every empire ever. Spaniards against Napoleon, French against Hitler, Irish against Cromwell, Vietnamese against everybody. If I can identify your family members, I can threaten them and through them, you.

It means you will be unidentified by political groups. EG let's say a right wing goverment in France finding all the gypsies in Paris.

Or a life insurance corporation seeing that you have predisposition for heart disease, and refusing to provide services to you.

> Or a life insurance corporation seeing that you have predisposition for heart disease, and refusing to provide services to you.

I don't get your example. It's a private company and has a right to decide what risks it should take...Unless there is a government control over life insurance rules - why would an insurance company risk losing money? It's the same as charging an 80 year old man higher premium than a 20 year old.

Because perfect information makes insurances useless. Insurances work because we know that most people have roughly the same chance, plus or minus a bit, to get royally fucked in life by disease, acts of God, human maliciousness and all that. That means that when someone gets the rough end of the stick, the entire group helps to pay to keep them on their feet.

If we have perfect (or near-perfect) knowledge, what would insurers do? Well, they'd charge you for exactly how much you're going to cost, plus some administrative costs, plus some extra. At that point, everyone's better off not having insurance.

> That means that when someone gets the rough end of the stick, the entire group helps to pay to keep them on their feet.

That's exactly what I meant, government should be that entity that helps those on the rough end of the stick. Riding on the misinformation of life insurance company is not a solution either

> > Riding on the misinformation of life insurance company is not a solution either

But this is the very and only concept of insurance: misinformation on misfortune...

What you suggest is that insurance, as practiced for the past thousand years, not exist at all then.

I think if anything it points to the fallacy that not allowing the government to collect this type of data, but allowing corporations to collect it, ends up with the same result as allowing the government to collect this data itself. All we've really accomplished is making things cheaper for the government as the private sector is footing the bill for collection and storage.

Put differently,corporations exist to put prices on things. Corporations are clearly minting products from peoples DNA samples. They probably can’t deny sales to governments.

Let's say the government was able to perfectly connect every person who commits a crime with that crime.

Combine that against the reality that everyone commits 3 felonies a day.


That's the perfect tool for oppression. Do you really want the government to be too good at solving crimes?

The FBI is never going to arrest people for the felony of improper paperwork on their crawfish fishing business based on their DNA.

Don’t forget to mention selective enforcement. That’s the real key to “monetizing” the pantopicon.

3 felonies a day is a lie. The fact that there's a book with that title doesn't mean it's reality.

Your point is a decent one, no need to exaggerate.

> 3 felonies a day is a lie

This is a compelling argument.

> potentially quickly identify violent criminals via physical traits

Western civilization requires warrants supported by probable cause, because history has proved the hard way that those are not the kind of people the state would be identifying if left to its own devices.

Forgot to add "for now."

The risk with this sort of thing is you never know which way the political winds will blow.

Case in point, I thought we progressed to the point where concentration camps were inconceivable in America given our past history with them nationally and internationally. And yet here we are.

The problem with using DNA to identify someone in crime is that we leave DNA everywhere. See this case for example: https://www.wired.com/story/dna-transfer-framed-murder/

Came here to mention that same article. The more important point, to my view, is that the DNA we shed doesn't necessarily stay put.

DNA transference, law enforcement access to large DNA databases, familial matching, and advances in extracting DNA from trace samples make for a scary combination. Lukis Anderson was damned lucky that the person who inadvertently transferred his DNA to a crime scene could be identified.

Reading that article and the studies it cites makes me lose all faith in DNA evidence. It seems anyone can be carrying anyone else’s DNA at any given time. What’s the point of considering it as evidence?

It's evidence. I can point you to tons of cases of eye witnesses providing faulty testimony (in good faith, not to mention those who lie).

Is there an oracle that will tell you who committed the crime? No. But it seems odd to be OK with some forms of evidence that are even more unreliable than this, if your issue is about reliability.

>If the company did not disclose this in massive font to potential customers ahead of time, then I do think this company should very quickly go out of business.

Disclose what? The point of most of these services is that you are adding yourself to a searchable database where you can find relations. The FBI seems to be using the service for the explicit reason it exists.

I'm very uncomfortable with the thought that one of these services could hand over specific DNA information to groups that could be used to profile you (employers, insurance, etc) but this use case really shouldn't come as surprising. It seems like complaining that the FBI found you by searching for your name on Facebook.

There’s a meaningful difference between the government getting a warrant to look for a specific person’s DNA and searching everyone’s DNA to see if it’s a match. Why should the government get to digitally “stop and frisk” three hundred thousand people because they have a hair sample from a murder scene?

Same reason the government should be allowed to search Facebook for information on a person of interest, or use the whitepages, or search public records such as property records, or use Google to search the web. They don't have any more access than a normal user, so they don't need a warrant. They are acting just like a member of the public and get the exact same results you or I would get if we used that site. If it's available for a member of the general population, it's available to law enforcement without a warrant. That's the way it's always been.

People are putting their genetic information into a database in order to be searchable by their genetic information. If they have a problem with being searchable by their genetic information, then they shouldn't upload their genetic information into publicly searchable databases.

>The Family Tree database is free to access and can be used by anyone with a DNA profile to upload, not just paying customers.

>Officials at Family Tree said customers could decide to opt out of any familial matching, which would prevent their profiles from being searchable by the FBI. But by doing so, customers would also be unable to use one of the key features of the service: finding possible relatives through DNA testing.

>In December 2018, the company changed its terms of service to allow law enforcement to use the database to identify suspects of “a violent crime,” such as homicide or sexual assault, and to identify the remains of a victim.

>In a statement, Greenspan, the president and founder of Gene by Gene, Family Tree’s parent company, said the firm would not be violating its terms of privacy to its customers, despite the FBI’s access.

>“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,” Greenspan said.

>In a statement, company officials told BuzzFeed News that despite the FBI’s access to the database, agents would not be able to obtain more information than what is accessible to normal users of the service.

> The Family Tree database is free to access and can be used by anyone with a DNA profile to upload, not just paying customers.

But the terms claim you are only able to upload files which are "my own or belongs to someone for who I am legally authorized to act." If FBI agents are creating accounts and then uploading DNA which doesn't belong to them, that seems to me to violate the terms.

Why is matching DNA analogous to "stop and frisk"? If the govt doesn't actually get access to the raw DNA data, but only the records that matched the sample they submitted, it sounds like a very narrow tool that doesn't infringe anyone's privacy without a valid reason (i.e. if there's a match).

I mean, fundamentally, how is it different from the police asking a hotel administrator whether John Doe stayed there?

>> I mean, fundamentally, how is it different from the police asking a hotel administrator whether John Doe stayed there?

I don't think it's different. Hopefully the hotel operator has the good sense to tell any law enforcement without a warrant precisely where they can shove it. It sounds like this DNA company does not have that good sense, however.

You talk about meaningful differences, but then lump a search in a database with stop and frisk. Either everyone is allowed to use hyperbole or no one is - you can’t have it both ways.

Do you understand the difference between searching an individual you know had committed a crime and searching pool of people that might contain an individual?

No hyperbole needed, and only one way is present :)

I'm hung up on that I, as a member of the general public, can essentially do the same thing when using the service more-or-less as intended.

In talking about searching a pool of people, I'm not really seeing how this is different than using Facebook to search for Criminal McEvildoer's name. The police are searching a pool of people (facebook users) to match a string. It's effectively the same thing, yeah?

The big issue here is that people are making privacy decisions without thinking through the ramifications of the privacy decisions.

23andMe, for example, only shows your information to people that it identifies as being related to you (typically ~1000 people). And that's only if you have open sharing turned on -- otherwise they need to send you a request. That's quite different from just sharing your information with anyone who searches for it.

> On the other hand, essentially all this does is provide law enforcement a means to potentially quickly identify

People who support government's ability to violate our rights always seem to think that the government will never use it in bad faith... And then they act surprised when their rights are gone.

> On the other hand, essentially all this does is provide law enforcement a means to potentially quickly identify violent criminals via physical traits as opposed to the contents of their mind such as forcing someone to unlock a phone which I am very against.

That is far from all it does. We have had massive historic and ongoing issues with the correct presentation and interpretation of forensic evidence by experts. There are a number of potential issues that can arise, but the deepest issue is a gradual shifting of the burden of proof onto defendants.

"Perhaps the greatest concern in all this debate, has been the subtle shift in the burden of proof resulting from misunderstanding or misuse of streamlined DNA profile match reports; with assumptions made and inferences asserted that a DNA match could only have resulted from the allegations, unless or until a defendant can demonstrate otherwise."


> Assuming DNA technology is advanced enough to provide few false positives (which I am not sure it is) and prosecution is based on additional concrete evidence as well I think I am fine with this.

The problem is that we have learned that so much forensic science is just flat out not scientific. DNA has many issues depending on the type of matching done and the samples gathered. It's scary that DNA has become such a slam dunk in cases, because it makes framing someone for a crime incredibly easy.

Just to be more clear, the problem is that if they don't find a perfect match (that ensures a low number of false positives) then they will try a partial match, and if I]that fails a somewhat match, but then the expert will claim that there is still a very low probability of false positives. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_profiling#Issues_with_fore...

re: "..essentially all this does is provide law enforcement a means to potentially quickly identify violent criminals via physical traits"

Perhaps today at 3:00 EST it may helping law enforcement identify violent criminals, but tomorrow it may be helping other gov't entities directly (or indirectly via familial) identify individuals for any reason at all.

This part is concerning though:

"Under the arrangement, the company has also agreed to test DNA evidence for the FBI in its private laboratory."

I hope the FBI will corroborate whatever results the private company comes up with later and just use the data to narrow down the suspects.

That's likely how it will play out, DNA evidence is a lot shakier these days since it's better known that DNA can go places the owner has never been. The transition point where juries don't know that though will be a bit scary, no one wants to be falsely implicated (like [0]) because they touched a handle on a bus and later the actual criminal touched it too.

[0] https://www.wired.com/story/dna-transfer-framed-murder/

>DNA can go places the owner has never been

Damn right it can. I was on a business trip alone and found some of my wife’s hair in my bed. I know it was hers because there was some more on a jacket in my luggage. I know testing hair isn’t exactly straight forward, but that was her DNA in a country she’s never even been to.

Im sure they can just send the samples to Target for double checking like they've done for years.


Question: would policing in the US be easier without the 4th amendment? Would it matter if the answer was yes?

Problem is private companies do and will have access to this data and will one day do the worst imaginable thing we don’t want them doing.

There is really no way forward with this. Even is legally limited to law enforcement, the data will get hacked, leaked, abused. It’s just a matter of time.

"can screen people for genetics flaws and make hiring decisions etc. based on them" Don't worry, by time we can accurately do this screening, the large push to automation will have already rendered most people unemployable.

It also makes it possible to screen for people with various ancestries. In the future, it will be easier to identify the target du jour for rounding up.

I'd happily put my DNA on public record if it promotes scientific research. I honestly don't understand the privacy concerns here for the lawful citizen.

Place; Amsterdam. Date; 27th of March, 1943. Objective; destroy the records identifying the 70000 Jewish people living in Amsterdam.

They were lawful citizens too. The law was to identify them and ship them out. Do you understand their privacy concerns?

Can you promise that this won't happen again? Can you assure us that no future group will use the records for this sort of thing? I believe it will happen again. I believe it can happen here. I'm not keen on making it easier for them.

All of the at-home DNA testing companies include this in their license agreements, including the ability to use your DNA in case any of your relatives might be accused of a crime.

This is one case in which you definitely want to read the license before you sign up... then throw that test tube in the trash!

Speaking of "throw that test tube in the trash", I'll share my anecdote:

One of the DNA testing companies was offering a free test for folks who suffer from things like autoimmune disorders (which I do). I signed up, got the kit, filled out the survey which asks a bunch of specific questions about which particular medical condition you have, etc. I set the box aside, planning to take it to work and drop it off in outgoing mail the next day.

Well, _literally the next morning_ my youtube account was suddenly showing ads for medication for my particular condition.

They didn't even wait to receive my DNA before selling me out! Threw that test tube in the trash faster than you can say "scumbag"!

This is the kind of thing that makes people not believe in the OP's story, because this is absolutely ridiculous.

It's called cookie and fragment tracking across the Internet. That's what happened to you. You sold yourself out by browsing the web without sufficient content blockers.

I mean, maybe, but GP also said they filled out a survey with their diagnosis information, so it's certainly plausible that the company added that information to their profile immediately.

And all of that cookie tracking just so happened to catch up with me the day after submitting the survey? I had been performing related searches for months...

Maybe it should be illegal to do ad tracking on sites about medical information. The fact that someone is browsing that site may be private medical information.

Considering there are only two countries in which advertising of pharmacy as allowed (to a point of fear mongering, like "the entire baby boom generation has hidden shingles - protect yourself before you die") - that is USA and Brazil, you're going to have a hard time convincing politicians to move their finger.. especially since majority of them are heavily founded by big pharma.

I find it a little hard to believe this was just because of the survey...

It doesn't really matter what you do personally. If any of your relatives submit their DNA, you're compromised just the same.

yep, your DNA spread around the relatives ( whom you may not even know about) is just like a BitTorrented movie - there is no way to put genie back. Even worse than that - at least in the movie case the studio does have legal rights to their movie while you have no rights wrt. the pieces of DNA of your relatives matching your DNA.

What if the relatives are okay with their DNA being used?

I know I'm not a serial rapist &/or murderer.

I hope my family members are not. The question is: what do I value more? A society without serial rapist killers or my family? I guess I prefer a society without that sort of nonsense, so even if my DNA is used to ensnare a relative, and they were doing horrible stuff, I'd be heartbroken that a family member had gone so astray but grateful they were unable to hurt anybody else.

See the investigative work using shirttail relative DNA to isolate the Golden State Killer.

That said, do I want law enforcement to have willy nilly access to DNA to, for example, chase down littering? No, IMO that is an inappropriate level of intrusion for the societal problem. Do I trust government to exercise good sense with these tools? I fear not so much. But I guess we will get used to the intrusions just as we have become accustom to the gov hoovering up all our communications metadata to find terrorists.

>The question is: what do I value more? A society without serial rapist killers or my family?

I would got for option three, a society without false positives, and especially not a false positive because someone's naive uncle involuntarily submitted the entire family for testing.

> A society without serial rapist killers or my family?

That's the 'think of the children' argument. If that is the choice then why not full GPS surveillance or always on video cameras? The problem is that the DNA test is not 100% and will end up snaring a bunch of innocent people in a dragnet.

Of all "dystopian future" things that are now becoming a reality, this is IMHO the most disturbing.

There is nothing you can do about it as a privacy conscious person. Some random relative will give their DNA up at some point or another. Then you're fucked forever.

Better yet, all 50 US states have government-run newborn heel prick programs, and they keep the blood. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/california-biobank-dna-babies-w...

It's cartoonishly evil. The government literally takes and stores the blood of all newborn infants.

There's a good thing they do with it, which is screening for genetic diseases, and some epidemiology. But there's nothing preventing them doing all that without tying it to each newborn's identity.

The doctors are stupid about it, but very few are going to forcibly take a blood sample from an infant while you protest and film it with your phone. And they'll give you horror stories and guilt trips about all the awful diseases your infant might have if you skip the test.

But fortunately the Mayo Clinic Labs have a test they can mail to your doctor that you can use instead: https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-info/newborn/index.html

Better plan it in advance though, and don't let the doctors put you off. Because once baby arrives, you'll be tired and the doctors will use all kinds of time pressure on you.

Whole genome sequencing is now available for well under $1000 and prices continue to drop.


I understand that forensic DNA comparisons are currently simpler and more error-prone, but it seems like whole-genome comparison is already cheap enough that it could be used for comparing suspect DNA with crime scene DNA in important cases. At some point I expect it to become the new standard.

The "what about flawed DNA matches?" arguments against using this technology in law enforcement raise valid concerns, but I think that these specific objections may be obsolete in a few more years.

To my knowledge, in California, a genetic sample has to be recovered and stored of every baby born? The archive is run by the state government. So why do they not use this registry that they already have full control over, but the data from the DNA company?

I don’t believe that test does the same level of sequencing that 23andMe does.

It basically tests for a few dozen genetic diseases. Diseases where if it’s caught early, the child has a chance at curtailing the negative consequences of the disease (they don’t test for diseases with no treatments).

Indeed it doesn't do the same level of sequencing. But the specimen is not being thrown away after the test, but kept in an archive. In some states like California you can revoke consent at least.

See the list of states with how long they store the specimens here: https://www.cchfreedom.org/files/files/Newborn%20Retention%2...

Governments might use this archive to sequence the DNAs down the road and then use it similarly to how they are already using those private services. Prices of sequencing are sinking as we speak.

Fair point about keeping the samples!

It is most definitely easier for the FBI to get data from a private company than from California.

I wonder if it's legal to leave the state to deliver your baby for the sole purpose of dodging the collection.

All 50 states have screening programs, so you'd have to go international. But you can refuse the test, and in fact the Mayo Clinic Labs have a test they can mail to your doctor that you can use instead: https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-info/newborn/index.html

Better plan it in advance though.

Had to look that up, can't believe it's true. California sounds like a horrifying place to live

If this bothers you, consider fighting back. Submit as many DNA samples to as many firms as you can find. Send each sample from a different [consenting] donor, and ask that they do the same and include you among their donors. This action at scale dirties the data sets of all the companies involved.

I don't think that plan follows awfully well, why on earth would you pay money for services for the sole intent to game their database into inefficiency? A spotted chance of that even working, at best you've given them money for nothing back. No, it's best to just spread the word amongst your friends, and avoid all this muck.

noise in the system?

I'm just advocating for the simpler and less costlier solution, speak with your wallet and remove yourself as data from the system, and encourage others.

Definitely don't send any money to these companies, as that's a lost game already.

right... but almost nobody is going to do that...

we just have to create the public perception that it has already been done

A user in /r/conspiracy posted the other day their school is offering free dna tests:


It seems inevitable that nearly everyone's DNA will eventually be disclosed or available to sufficiently interested parties. You literally leave a trail of DNA behind you, the cost of collecting it has steadily fallen, and you can't change your DNA so a single security breech in your entire life is irrevocable.

I remember attending a bioinformatics conference years ago when Nanopore presented one of their first devices. For those who are not in the field, Nanopore offers a palm sized device that can sequence DNA in real-time as the strand moves through a small pore. They are still far from offering a device that is accurate enough to identify people.

During the presentation, images of public places vacuuming up biological material and sequencing whatever DNA material found came to my mind. The privacy implications of this is potentially very scary.

It's bad but not unexpected, overreach is what these people do. Day to do though everyone should be far more scared of Insurance companies getting hold of their DNA test results.

In the US GINA bans health insurance companies from using genetic data for determining premiums or eligibility.

If it were legal you wouldn't have to worry about insurance companies mining genetic databases, it wouldn't matter, they'd simply demand a DNA sample in order to be insured.

GINA's effective -- now. But what if it goes the way of the endangered preexisting condition exclusion? Parties are already chopping pieces of that latter protection away under the guise of short term policies.

GINA was voted into law 509-1 (Ron Paul being the sole dissenter), it was hardly controversial.

>what if it goes the way of the endangered preexisting condition exclusion?

Then insurance companies will simply demand DNA to be insured. Same way car insurance companies demand financial information (through credit bureaus) in order to insure you in places where it's legal to do so (which is the vast majority of the US save 1-2 states).

So either way you don't have to worry about insurance companies mining private databases, if GINA exists they can't legally and if GINA doesn't exist they'll just do the data collection themselves.

Legally of course you're right, and I suspect you already know about the Medical Information Bureau's repository of adverse health info used right now.

Where we'd part company I guess is in seeing an equivalency of consequences in the lack of car as compared to the lack of health insurance.

I almost did one of this test because I was curious about the results. Ultimately I decided that giving my DNA to a some random company on the internet is just a bad idea, even if (a big if at that) the results are accurate and interesting.

Stories like these are why I'm glad I decided not to.

A bit hyperbolic, but not completely inconceivable: Long lost twins separated at birth, one twin murders somebody, the other twin gets his DNA tested, FBI says "we found him", guy goes to jail for crime he never committed. Oops

Replace murder with art heist: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1887111,00... With a "happier" ending.

Are there any similar reports regarding 23andme? I know quite a few people who have used their service.

We do not do this at 23andMe: https://www.23andme.com/transparency-report/

Not yet. I think they're well (more?) aware of potential consumer backlash.

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, catching the golden state killer is awesome.

On the other, DNA matching is a stochastic process. False positive matches are possible, and likely if used to identify suspects at scale with no other evidence or links to the crime.

We’re probably still in the infancy of DNA-based law, I suspect.

I bet if there was an option to voluntarily enable this, many people would say yes! eg. "Do you want us to use your data to help catch criminals / rescue those wrongly accused?"

Same way as asking "Do you want to be an organ donor?".

The NSA collects the records of everyone two connections away from a terrorism suspect.

This will allow the FBI to profile the families of criminals. I have a cousin who joined a white supremecist group. Does that mean my life ahould be put under a microscope in case I’m committing crimes too? Should I have to submit to body cavity searches at airports because of her drug convictions?

Our prison system is not designed to punish or rehabilitate. It’s designed to isolate society’s undesireables and put them in a cage away from the rest of us. The Powers That Be would like nothing more than to extend that to entire families.

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