Serving as one of the largest DNA testing companies in the world, Ancestry.com helps individuals discover who their ancestors are, the experiences they encountered, and even allows them to understand how their DNA might influence health conditions that could potentially be passed down. With a database containing nearly 16 million DNA profiles, there is no doubt that the company has access to a significant amount of private information—some of which law enforcement officials would like to get their hands on.
In fact, Ancestry.com was recently served with a search warrant that came from a Pennsylvania court seeking access to the company’s DNA database, reports Buzzfeed News. Ancestry responded to the warrant by challenging it. The company said that “the warrant was improperly served on Ancestry and we did not provide any access or customer data in response. Ancestry has not received any follow up from law enforcement on this matter.”
What prompted the search warrant to be issued?
After police were able to make connections between crime scene DNA and profiles that were uploaded to a public genetic genealogy database called GEDmatch, officials discovered who the Golden State Killer was. After cracking a case that had police searching for a suspect for more than four decades, law enforcement officials realized a new method had evolved to solve crimes. According to Buzzfeed, “investigative genetic genealogy” is this new method and “it involves searching for genetic profiles that partially match DNA from crime scenes and then building family trees from these relatives to find a suspect.” The more profiles police have to search through, the “more likely they are to find a reasonably close relative.”
Hence, this is one of the reasons why police are now looking to gain access to Ancestry’s database.
While legal experts have expected companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, an Ancestry competitor, to be served with search warrants given the information that sits in their private database, these companies have “publicly vowed to defend their customers’ genetic privacy, and say they will fight efforts to open up their databases to searches by police.” Although Ancestry has refused to comply with the search warrant that was recently issued, the source says that we can expect to see “legal tussles” in the future that will “center on the meaning of “probable cause.”
When probable cause has been established in a case, law enforcement officials are typically able to conduct a search if they believe it is going to help them solve a crime. And because Ancestry’s database contains genetic information that “is highly likely to help solve violent crimes,” the company could be forced to open up their database and comply. In the event this were to happen and personal information is disclosed, those who are criminally charged as a result of any connections that are made will want to hire a criminal defense lawyer to fight their charges.