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The Dark Side of DNA Testing

America Uncovered with Chris Chappell

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People are using home DNA testing kits from companies like 23AndMe and Ancestry to find out about their past. But law enforcement and police are also using DNA test kits to catch criminals with genes. And it has some worried about major potential for misuse.

Two of the biggest DNA testing companies are 23AndMe and Ancestry, and they’ve acquired a huge collection of human DNA. An estimated seven million Americans have taken a DNA test. Worldwide, over 26 million people have taken an at-home ancestry test.

Upsides of DNA Testing

Some people credit DNA companies with helping them diagnose medical conditions. The test tells you if you’re genetically at risk for different diseases, like Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. The FDA has approved them to give you certain medical results, but their methods are disputed. Some of the tests may be more like parlor tricks than medicine.

Other people take DNA tests to find out more about their heritage, and they can find long-lost relatives.

Are There Downsides to DNA Testing?

Like all good things, there’s a catch. For starters, the results can be a lot to unpack. Imagine if your father had another child that no one else knew about. Or if you find out that your parents aren’t your biological parents.

Whether your results are good or bad, they’re made possible because genealogy companies have collected a treasure trove of data from millions of people.

The Use of DNA by Law Enforcement

Giant corporations getting access to your personal data is already scary enough, but what about the police? It turns out law enforcement could be using the same databases you willingly submit your DNA into.

We’re increasingly seeing cold cases of rape and murder getting retroactively solved with the help of DNA database matching systems. The case of the “Golden State Killer” is the most high profile example of police using a genealogy database in action. They cracked the case with the help of an online genealogy database called GED Match. It’s an open source website that hosts raw genetic information. The information is uploaded voluntarily by people who are actively looking for long-lost relatives.

You might say this is great, we’re catching criminals who evaded justice for decades. But just think about it for a second. They were caught through the DNA of relatives. They never gave their DNA willingly for testing. Technically, police need a warrant to do this kind of thing. But at least one genealogy company is just handing over access to federal prosecutors. Over two million genetic profiles were exposed in this deal. Your private genetic information may not be so private anymore.

Press play to listen to the whole episode. Have you gotten your DNA tested? Did you have any surprises? Please comment below.

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