Bode Technology using FTDNA matching system

The news about police access to the DNA matching system at Family Tree DNA just keeps getting worse.

First, it was that, under an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a few crime scene samples had been run through the matching system to see who in the DNA testing company’s database might match and produce leads to solve very serious crimes — all without the informed consent of customers.

Then it was that it wasn’t limited to just a few very serious crimes — the terms of use had been modified without notice to customers to allow police to submit samples for matching for a wide variety of crimes defined by a federal statute that even reached cases where there hadn’t been any actual injury at all.

Now it’s that a commercial company offering research services to any police department anywhere is running its samples through the matching system, greatly expanding the reach of law enforcement into private information of customers who tested solely for genealogical purposes.

The first hint of this came in a press release from Bode Technology on February 11:

Bode Technology (Bode), a leading provider of forensic DNA analysis products and services, announced a new forensic genealogy service offering to law enforcement investigators and crime laboratories. Bode’s Forensic Genealogy Service (FGS) combines advanced DNA testing and genealogy to develop ancestral relationships between samples and deliver leads to our clients.1

No problem there. That kind of service was already being offered by another company, Parabon, so this isn’t anything new.

But on the Bode Technology website itself came this statement:

Most genealogy service offerings utilize GEDMatch to identify individuals. Through Bode’s partnerships, Bode FGS also searches profiles in an additional DNA database that contains approximately 1 million profiles. This additional database greatly expands the pool of profiles that could support developing a family tree to identify suspects of crimes or the remains of deceased individuals.2

Bode

Uh oh.

Guess what DNA testing company has profiles of one million people in its database?

There simply isn’t any other database that Bode could be referencing other than Family Tree DNA, and a Bode spokesman said as much to Buzzfeed just days ago:

For its new forensic genealogy service, Bode is working with Family Tree DNA, which BuzzFeed News last month revealed had opened its genetic genealogy database to law enforcement. The company also said that its lab would generate DNA profiles for cops from crime-scene samples.3

So from a high-level agreement with the FBI, we’re now looking at any police department with some extra cash having the ability to submit a sample from any crime scene — not just rapes and murders but a wide variety of cases as long as the money is there — and pull information about all the persons who’ve tested who match those samples out to the distant cousin level. In any given case, we’re talking tens of thousands of people whose names, emails, profile information, matching segment data, family trees and more are being exposed to being sucked into a criminal investigation — again, all without their informed consent.

And, of course, Parabon, the other commercial company, is already asking for the same access,4 and…

Oh, boy.

Look, there’s no problem with making resources available to the police if people consent to it. But consent is something you secure, up front, after full disclosure, before exposing information. Consent isn’t obtained by opening the doors and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mind, do you? Anybody who minds must have something to hide or at least not care about catching criminals…”

This latest disclosure — that a commercial firm is getting access to this information without customer consent — makes it all the more imperative that Family Tree DNA act immediately and responsibly to change its access-by-police system to opt-in. Anybody who wants to assist in these investigations can do so with a simple tick box; everybody else can be left alone, as it is their absolute right to be left alone until and unless a court order requires their cooperation.

It’s time, and beyond time, for the company to take corrective action and keep its promises to its customers to protect their privacy.


SOURCES

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Commercial researchers gain FTDNA access,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 17 Feb 2019).

  1. Bode Technology Announces Forensic Genealogy Service to Law Enforcement Agencies and Crime Laboratories,” issued 11 Feb 2019, PRWeb.com (https://www.prweb.com/releases/ : accessed 17 Feb 2019).
  2. Why use Bode FGS?,” Forensic Genealogy Services, Bode Technology (https://www.bode-labs.com/ : accessed 17 Feb 2019) (emphasis added).
  3. Peter Aldhous, “The Golden State Killer Case Has Spawned A New Forensic Science Industry,” Buzzfeed, posted 15 Feb 2019 (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/ : accessed 17 Feb 2019).
  4. Ibid.
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