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Search Decisions

This post has been updated to clarify how the terms of service were changed. 

Individuals have handed over their DNA to consumer genetic testing companies to learn about their ancestry, find relatives, or health risks, but the Wall Street Journal notes that law enforcement has also become interested in genetic genealogy and has used consumers' data to home in on potential suspects.

BuzzFeed News reported in January that FamilyTreeDNA had been working with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations and had allowed the agency to search its database to uncover leads in violent crimes. As BuzzFeed News notes, law enforcement had been using publicly available databases — the Golden State Killer case, for instance, relied on the GEDmatch database — but that this was the first time a private company had voluntarily worked with law enforcement.

As the Journal now writes, Bennett Greenspan, the president of FamilyTreeDNA, viewed helping the FBI as being a good citizen. But as others at his firm learned of the FBI's access, "the company posted another term of service on its website Jan. 30 with the new language, but didn't make an announcement," as the Journal says. The firm later also developed a way to enable customers to opt out of law enforcement searches.

"I have made decisions on my own for a long time. In this case, it was easy. We were talking about horrendous crimes. So I made the decision," Greenspan tells the Journal. He adds, though, that he now would seek the input of an advisory panel they've since assembled.