30 March 2019

Crowd-sourced Forensics

FamilyTreeDNA, the US recreational genomics business that attracted attention for warrant-free cooperation with investigators leading to identification of the 'Golden State' serial killer, is now advertising with a pitch urging consumers to contribute DNA to help catch criminals. That gifting will presumably boost the company's databases and its subsequent value.

The FamilyTreeDNA television ads ask  anyone who has had a direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA test from a competitor such as 23andMe or Ancestry.com to upload a copy so that law enforcement can spot any connections to DNA found at crime scenes.

The ads feature an  abductees father saying '“If you are one of the millions of people who have taken a DNA test, your help can provide the missing link'. Nothing like crowd-sourced forensics for profit.

In  February the company disclosed that, absent advice to its customer, it had been letting the FBI compare the DNA of unknown criminals with that of more than a million genealogy enthusiats whose genetic profiles are on file.  Bennett Greenspan, the firm’s founder, referred to a moral obligation to help solve old murders and rapes.
An avid genealogist, Greenspan created FamilyTreeDNA to help other family researchers solve problems and break down walls to connect the dots of their family trees. Without realizing it, he had inadvertently created a platform that, nearly two decades later, would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever.  
Gene-by-Gene, Ltd., which is privately owned by Greenspan and his business partner Max Blankfeld and is a CAP and CLIA accredited laboratory that performs all of the consumer DNA testing for their company FamilyTreeDNA as well as several other commercial clients, is working with the FBI to test DNA samples provided by law enforcement in order to help identify perpetrators of violent crimes and to identify the remains of deceased individuals. 
After receiving inquiries from the FBI, Greenspan found himself asking whether, as a trusted guardian of consumer DNA data and consumer privacy according to U.S. News and World Reports, FamilyTreeDNA in good conscience and without violating consumers’ trust could help the FBI identify the remains of deceased persons or perpetrators of violent crimes (as defined in 18 U.S. Code § (924) (e) (2) (B)), saving lives and preventing others from becoming victims? 
“We came to the conclusion,” says Greenspan, “that if law enforcement created accounts, with the same level of access to the database as the standard FamilyTreeDNA user, they would not be violating user privacy and confidentiality. In order for the FBI to obtain any additional information, they would have to provide a valid court-order such as a subpoena or search warrant.” 
Working with law enforcement to process DNA samples from the scene of a violent crime or identifying an unknown victim does not change our policy never to sell or barter our customers’ private information with a third party. Our policy remains fully intact and in force.” ...  
According to Greenspan, “If we can help prevent violent crimes and save lives or bring closure to families, then we’re going to do that. We’re going to do it within a framework that continues to ensure that the privacy of our customers, which has been paramount to us since day one and remains so today, is protected to the greatest degree possible.”
The FamilyTreeDNA  site states prominently
We won’t share your DNA 
We believe your DNA belongs to YOU and only you . . . period. For that reason, we will never sell your DNA to third parties. 
Can the other guys say that?