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Your Daughter Arrested By Your Own DNA? Ancestry Sites & Law Enforcement

Back in 2009, I’d written an article on Disney theme parks sharing facial recognition technologically enhanced photos of park-goers with the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to boost the DHS’ base population photo database.  Shortly thereafter, the theme parks were joined by cruise lines, vacation spots and just about all hotel, domestic and international, check-ins.  Now firmly in possession of billions of citizen and visitor photos, law enforcement has moved on to absorb as much DNA from the public as it can, often to identify relatives of those on file in connection with crimes.

This 2015 Fusion article describes the acquisition of genetic IDs from family ancestry sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe:

When companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe first invited people to send in their DNA for genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests, privacy advocates warned about the creation of giant genetic databases that might one day be used against participants by law enforcement. DNA, after all, can be a key to solving crimes. It “has serious information about you and your family,” genetic privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber told me back in 2010 when such services were just getting popular.

Now, five years later, when 23andMe and Ancestry both have over a million  customers, those warnings are looking prescient. “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect,” warns Wired, writing about a case from earlier this year, in which New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry became a suspect in an unsolved murder case after cops did a familial genetic search using semen collected in 1996. The cops searched an Ancestry.com database and got a familial match to a saliva sample Usry’s father had given years earlier. Usry was ultimately determined to be innocent and the Electronic Frontier Foundation called it a “wild goose chase” that demonstrated “the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases.”

The FBI maintains a national genetic database with samples from convicts and arrestees, but this was the most public example of cops turning to private genetic databases to find a suspect. But it’s not the only time it’s happened, and it means that people who submitted genetic samples for reasons of health, curiosity, or to advance science could now end up in a genetic line-up of criminal suspects.

Both Ancestry.com and 23andMe stipulate in their privacy policies that they will turn information over to law enforcement if served with a court order. 23andMe says it’s received a couple of requests from both state law enforcement and the FBI, but that it has “successfully resisted them.”

23andMe’s first privacy officer Kate Black, who joined the company in February, says 23andMe plans to launch a transparency report, like those published by Google, Facebook and Twitter, within the next month or so. The report, she says, will reveal how many government requests for information the company has received, and presumably, how many it complies with. (Update: The company released the report a week later.)

“In the event we are required by law to make a disclosure, we will notify the affected customer through the contact information provided to us, unless doing so would violate the law or a court order,” said Black by email.

Ancestry.com would not say specifically how many requests it’s gotten from law enforcement. It wanted to clarify that in the Usry case, the particular database searched was a publicly available one that Ancestry has since taken offline with a message about the site being “used for purposes other than that which it was intended.” Police came to Ancestry.com with a warrant to get the name that matched the DNA.

“On occasion when required by law to do so, and in this instance we were, we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested but we don’t comment on the specifics of cases,” said a spokesperson.

As NYU law professor Erin Murphy told the New Orleans Advocate regarding the Usry case, gathering DNA information is “a series of totally reasonable steps by law enforcement.” If you’re a cop trying to solve a crime, and you have DNA at your disposal, you’re going to want to use it to further your investigation. But the fact that your signing up for 23andMe or Ancestry.com means that you and all of your current and future family members could become genetic criminal suspects is not something most users probably have in mind when trying to find out where their ancestors came from.

“It has this really Orwellian state feeling to it,” Murphy said to the Advocate.

If the idea of investigators poking through your DNA freaks you out, both Ancestry.com and 23andMe have options to delete your information with the sites. 23andMe says it will delete information within 30 days upon request.

Another example of familial DNA invasion:

From pri,org:

DNA is taken from the crime scene and compared against a federally regulated FBI-run database used to process DNA evidence, called CODIS. The process can take as long as 18 months before a match is identified. In the meantime, the perpetrator has committed a string of other crimes.

But some local police departments claim they can get faster results — as little as 30 days — by using private labs and local DNA databases.

Frederick Harran, director of public safety at the Bensalem Police Department in Pennsylvania said, “18 months is not prevention, that’s not what they pay me for.”

“I would agree the federal database is a good thing, but we’re just moving too slow,” he claims.

So more and more law enforcement agencies are turning to local databases. But with loose regulations, that can present troubling scenarios. Take this real example from Melbourne, Florida, for example.

A few teenagers were sitting in a parked car, when a police officer pulled up and requested someone provide a DNA sample. The officer gave one boy a cotton swab and a consent form. Once the officer made the collection, he went back on patrol as usual.

Increasingly, local police departments are collecting consensual DNA samples, processed using private labs. It’s happening in cities across Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and North Carolina.

The potential issues for these databases vary state by state. In Florida, minors are allowed to consent to having their DNA collected, which isn’t true in other states, like Pennsylvania. But simply maintaining the databases allows each jurisdiction to test every sample already collected, meaning that the DNA from a minor crime scene from years before could be immediately matched with the new sample.

Stephen Mercer, chief attorney for the Forensics Division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, finds the practice deeply troubling.

“The collection procedureshighlights the very real threat to liberty interests that local DNA databanks pose,” Mercer said. “The usual suspects are targeted, so we see this amplification of bias in the criminal justice system along the lines of race being amplified through the criminal justice system.”

Granted, many may think, “Well, if you have nothing to hide…”.  That’s not the point. The innocent, unindicted individual should retain a basic form of control over whether she becomes involved in situations wherein she identifies relatives in potential criminal acts. There is something perverse in having one’s DNA finger one’s own flesh and blood for the government’s purposes.  Identification by familial DNA isn’t a slippery slope… it’s a well-greased slalom of privacy infringement.

We will be looking into the matter of DNA familial finger-pointing in-depth and report back as developments warrant .

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Who’s Your Daddy? Top 8 Paternity & Ancestry Home Tests

dna-test

Several of our readers have asked us to recommend home DNA tests.  After careful research, we suggest these top eight home DNA kits, bearing in mind that all require send away to a laboratory for testing.  Several of the models include legal certification but obviously the sample collection chain must be sworn to by the collector.  We’ve added links to each test for your review of test specs.  Just remember one thing in any kind of testing of this kind – the child involved is an innocent.  Keep that in mind.

  1. Ancestry.com – Will delete or destroy physical test results if requested.
  2. SwabTest – All legal DNA tests are fully admissible in court in every state in the USA.
  3. HomeDNA – The markers analyzed include the same 13 markers used by the FBI for human identity testing.
  4. Identigene – Court-admissible by New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) guidelines.
  5. National Geographic Geno 2.0 –  Can find out if you have Neanderthal ancestry
  6. Paternity Depot – May be able to distinguish between identical twins.
  7. RapidDNA – Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing issued by the Director of the FBI.
  8. Endeavor Paternity Test – Not available for New York State.

Several important things to know about DNA testing: (from Ancestry.com)

Purpose
Before you order a DNA test, know what kind of test you’re looking for. Paternity tests and ancestry DNA tests are very different, and most vendors don’t offer both kinds to consumers. If you’re interested in finding out about whether or not you have Eastern European roots, an ancestral test can give you that information. If you want to know if a child’s alleged father is correct, a paternity test does the job. Pricing and timelines for the two procedures are very different.

Collection Process
Most of these DNA samples can be collected in your home, unless otherwise specified. The most common form of collection is through a cheek swab because it’s quick and painless. However, some labs allow submission samples from toothbrushes, gum or other body fluids.

Timeline
Ancestry DNA tests are typically slower to process than paternity tests. Part of this is due to the time sensitivity of paternity tests, and part of this is due to the size of the database an ancestry test is using. When you’re looking into your ethnicity, the lab specialists are comparing your DNA with thousands of other samples to identify your deep-seeded roots. In paternity tests, they’re only looking at a couple of samples.

Paternity tests are stressful enough, and they’re often tied up in legal disputes. Because of this, time is usually of the essence. You can usually get your results in a week or less, but some companies offer expedited options. Before buying, look at how quickly you can expect to get your results.

Legality
This is more relevant to paternity tests, because such tests can be used in court proceedings. In order for a test to be admissible in court, certain procedures must be followed. Some companies accommodate for this, while others explicitly state that their tests cannot be submitted.

Accreditation
There are many standards and levels of accreditation for genetic testing labs. Genetic testing is an intensive and complex process, so it’s important that your lab is up to date, safe and secure.

Of all times when the Reagan quote, “Trust but verify” applies, perhaps no more so than with paternal testing. Just remember, again, that the child had no choice in the matter.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

DNA-Collecting Pen, Text Message Retriever & Other Cool Stuff

Uzi Tactical Pen: Write, Collect DNA, Shatter Glass In An Emergency

The Uzi Tactical Pen, is a  unique writing instrument that can double up as a potentially life saving tool should the (admittedly, odd) situation arise.  The DNA Catcher, (located in the crown of the pen),  is very sharp, and designed for use as a jabbing weapon that causes extreme pain to your attacker (and an opportunity to flee), while giving you a sample of their DNA to deliver to police. The crown also functions as a glass breaker (i.e, for an emergency such as being stuck in your car – car accident, flooding…). Made out of high-grade aircraft aluminum, the Uzi Tac Pen can write upside down or under water.

Device Seziure V5:  Capture Texts, GPS Info, etc., from 4,000 mobiles, smartphones, and GPS devices

 

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(Unless you are experienced in physical acquisition of mobile data, we suggest you coordinate with a digital forensics expert, depending on the purpose of the information recovery.)

In the manufacturer’s (Paraben) own words:

Depending on the Device and the Model, Device Seizure™ can Access the Following Data:
  • Current Text Messages
  • Deleted Text Messages
  • Phonebook (from the phone’s memory and the SIM card)
  • Call History including Received, Dialled and Missed Calls
  • Datebook, Scheduler, and Calendar
  • To-Do Lists
  • The Device’s Filesystem
  • System Files
  • Pictures and Videos
  • Java Files
  • Quicknotes
  • GPS Waypoints, Tracks, and Routes
  • RAM/ROM
  • PDA Databases
  • E-mail
  • Registry (Windows Mobile Devices)
  • Deleted Data

SenseAware really knows how to track a package

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You’ve over-nighted an important document and need to know if it has definitely been received.  You can monitor FedEx online every 5 minutes (be advised that their status update lag can range from a few hours to a day) or you can use SenseAware.

FedEx has stepped up their tracking game with Senseaware, a drop-in sensor for packages that monitors every situation and condition of delivery possible.

This device is about the size of a BlackBerry, and it tracks situations( in near real time) such as exact location, whether or not the package has been opened or exposed to light. It even has a built-in accelerometer so it will detect when it has been dropped.

BNI Operatives: Street smart: info savvy.

As always, stay safe.

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