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NO DNA info requests

In the brouhaha last year about law enforcement trying to use genealogical DNA information to solve a very old, very nasty murder case, The Legal Genealogist made one prediction:

Law enforcement wouldn’t do it very much again, since it was a very complicated and very expensive failure.1

Ancestry.trI posited that, while the test in that case proved the individual the police were interested in — a man named Michael Usry — was not the killer:

the test proved something else, of importance to our cousins who sometimes fear what could happen if they test for genealogy. It also proved, definitively, why going to genetic genealogy databanks isn’t going to be the first choice of police agencies. Why, in fact, it’s likely to be one of the last choices.

The simple fact is that the tests we take for genealogy aren’t all that useful to the police. Our tests tell us how we are like other people — other family members who share common ancestors with us. The tests the police really want — tests of what are called CODIS markers — focus on parts of the DNA that make us unlike other people and set us apart as individuals.

Guess what?

I was right.

Yesterday, the Ancestry family of companies issued what it called a transparency report, detailing all of the information requests it had received from law enforcement agencies for any type of information for all of 2015.

Not surprisingly, “All of the requests we received in 2015 were related to investigations involving credit card misuse and identity theft, and, where required by law, we provided responsive information to these requests,” Ancestry said. “We received no requests for information related to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member, and we did not disclose any such information to law enforcement.”2

In its overview, Ancestry said:

• Ancestry received 14 law enforcement requests for data about members in 2015.

• Ancestry provided information in response to 13 of those 14 requests.3

And, it clarified:

• “Ancestry did not receive any requests relating to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member in 2015.”

• “In our history, we have received just one request relating to DNA information—a 2014 search warrant ordering us to provide the identity of a person based on a DNA sample that had previously been made public for which the police had a match. We disclosed information in response to that valid warrant.” (That, by the way, was the Usry case I wrote about.)

• “As of December 31, 2015, Ancestry has never received a classified request pursuant to the national security laws of the United States or any other country. In other words, Ancestry has not received a National Security Letter or a request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”4

So — one more time — when that cousin asks you, once again, whether his genetic genealogy test can be used by the police, remind him, once again, that except in really extraordinary cases where the crime is very serious and the police have no clues at all, the chances that the police are going to turn to genealogy DNA databanks are pretty slim.

The fact simply is that using genetic genealogy tests isn’t easy for the police. Our tests are so different from what the police need for a criminal case that, quite frankly, the police don’t particularly want our results — and when they have probable cause to think we’ve committed a crime, they don’t need them.

Yesterday’s report bears that out: law enforcement isn’t fishing in our genealogy results.

Unless, of course, we’re committing credit card fraud or identity theft… and then all bets are off.


SOURCES

  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Big Easy DNA: not so easy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Mar 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  2. Ancestry 2015 Transparency Report,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
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