Ancestry.com, a website that allows users to send in DNA samples to search against a database in order to investigate their genealogy, has recently been the subject of privacy concerns, with police requesting usage of the service's DNA database in order to solve crimes.
With user bases of more than 1 million people each, Ancestry and similar service 23andMe have "serious information about you and your family," said genetic privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber, according to Fusion. In their privacy policies, Ancestry and 23andMe both state that they will give information to police if served with a court order. However, 23andMe says that it has received requests from state police and the FBI in the past, but was able to resist handing over customer information.
Notably, familial DNA testing aided in the arrest of a man believed to be Los Angeles' "Grim Sleeper" serial killer, Wired reports. Investigators found that DNA at the scene shared similarities with a convicted felon who turned out to be the suspected killer's son.
Another example of familial DNA testing paints a more murky picture. Michael Usry, a filmmaker from New Orleans, came under suspicion for the 1996 murder of a teenager named Angie Dodge in Idaho Falls; while another man had been convicted for the killing, the DNA evidence didn't appear to match. After running a DNA search, detectives found close similarities to the DNA of Usry's father, who donated a DNA sample to a genealogy project which was later purchased by Ancestry.
Usry was taken to a police station and had his cheek swabbed to check if the DNA at the crime scene matched his own. After a 33-day wait, the authorities determined that the DNA was not a match, and declared that Usry was not the killer, whom police have yet to find.
"Anyone who knows the science understands that there’s a high rate of false positives,” Erin Murphy, a New York University Law professor and author of 'Inside The Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA,' told Wired.
Ancestry shut down the database used to find Usry's father, saying that it had been used "for purposes other than that [for] which it was intended."