I am discontinuing my public collaboration in genetic genealogy research at this time. I will continue to work with known relatives to find DNA segments that are identical by descent (IBD) and indicative of family heritage. In my mind, there has been a breach of the trust that has been placed in the stewards of our DNA that was collected and stored for the purpose of finding lost family connections.
All DNA kits in my custody have been deleted from GEDMatch. I have also deleted my GEDCOM and my account from that site. It seems that the timing is fortuitous … or ironic. On December 9, 2019, that site was sold to a company with links to law enforcement.
I will make a decision about whether to delete the DNA kits that were uploaded to testing sites on a case-by-case basis:
- FamilyTreeDNA – Autosomal DNA kits uploaded are being removed.
This is a complicated and rapidly-evolving situation. It is my personal opinion that law enforcement agencies are exceeding their authority by using DNA uploaded to genealogy websites to try to solve “cold cases” and identify cadavers. No matter how heinous the unsolved crime, this sets a precedent of abrogation of our personal privacy that is unacceptable. I sympathize with the family and friends of missing individuals who might derive closure. However, the use of DNA samples given for genealogy research or medical research is a betrayal of trust and it must be discouraged.
There will be a time when responsible online tools will be developed by genetic genealogists. There will be a time when we can trust the owners and operators of genetic genealogy sites to respect our right to seek our relatives without fear from law enforcement or other government agencies misusing the data for their own objectives.
Technology exists to protect databases from misuse. It may take a few years before trustworthy tools are developed. Until then, I will preserve the DNA kits that are entrusted to me. I will perform genetic analysis using offline tools in which I can assure my collaborators that their DNA will not be made available to government agencies with other agendas. Most important, I will not conduct business with companies that collaborate with the sale of our private data for other purposes.
If any of my readers are aware of F/LOSS projects that are dedicated to developing secure DNA comparison and analysis tools, please contact me with details.
There is plenty to read about the situation on the Internet. There are plenty of opinions, some rather vitriolic, floating around. I am not interested in contributing to the vitriol, or the dialogue, beyond informing my current matches why I am no longer sharing my DNA in the usual places.
Here are some articles on the subject . This list may be updated over time.
“A DNA Firm That Caters to Police Just Bought a Genealogy Site,” Wired, 9 Dec., 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/a-dna-firm-that-caters-to-police-just-bought-a-genealogy-site/.
- “GEDmatch Sells,” The DNA Geek, 9 Dec., 2019. https://thednageek.com/gedmatch-sells/.
- “The GEDmatch Warrant,” The DNA Geek, 11 Nov. 2019. https://thednageek.com/the-gedmatch-warrant/.