DNA home testing kits that can trace ancestry and find missing relatives are a dream come true for genealogists. But as conspiracy theorists have long suspected, the tests are being used for other purposes, too.
What is going on?
BuzzFeed News reported that Family Tree DNA, one of the largest home DNA testing companies, is allowing FBI agents to search its databases in their quest to "solve violent crime cases."
The company's database has about 1,021,774 records, Jezebel.com reported.
Public genealogy databases are often used by police to solve cold cases. One of the most notable ones that used DNA from a public database was the Golden State Killer case.
But the Family Tree DNA revelation is the first time a company to allow a federal agents access to a database of information that is promoted to the public as something that's fun and secure. Reportedly, the FBI cannot casually browse the DNA library. But any kind of access is likely to raise concerns about privacy, including the possible profiling of relatives of crime suspects.
The Houston-based company defended the practice, telling BuzzFeed in a statement that it will allow law enforcement agencies to solve "violent crimes faster than ever." Family Tree reportedly does not have a contract with the FBI, but has agreed to "test DNA samples and upload the profiles to its database on a case-by-case basis since last fall," a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed.
The company even bragged about the practice.
"Without realizing it [Family Tree DNA founder and CEO Bennett Greenspan] had inadvertently created a platform that, nearly two decades later, would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever," the company said in a statement.
BuzzFeed asked a genealogy enthusiast what she thought about the FBI possibly having access to her DNA information.
"All in all, I feel violated, I feel they have violated my trust as a customer," said Leah Larkin, a genetic genealogist based in Livermore, California, and a Family Tree DNA customer. "I've got to decide whether I want to opt out of matching or delete my kits."
Larkin, who is an administrator of a Facebook genealogy group with about 50,000 members, said she believes the rest of the group will likely be split over whether it's a good idea. Some will side with law enforcement having access and others will be outraged, she told BuzzFeed.
"I think it's going to cause a lot of uproar," she said. "We're going to get the full spectrum."