Genealogy company Family Tree DNA hit the headlines last month after it was revealed the firm had given law enforcement agencies access to its DNA database. The FBI was allowed to comb through the information in a bid to identify crime suspects, igniting confidentiality concerns and privacy fears. Now, the gene-testing service has announced it will let customers bar law enforcement from accessing their data.
Additionally, law enforcement agencies will need to go through a "separate process" when uploading their own files to the database in search of matches, and this can only be done in an effort to identify a deceased person or suspects involved in homicide or sexual assault.
The FBI using genealogy to solve crimes is nothing new, but the Family Tree incident marks the first time the public was made aware that a private DNA company had voluntarily given law enforcement access to its database, and represents the ethical challenges posed by this kind of service. Giving customers the opportunity to opt out of giving the FBI access is an important step in defining privacy rules in this murky area, but it still puts the onus on the customer to manage their data, when some would argue the company should be protecting it by default.