On April 25, California law enforcement announced the possible capture of a long-sought serial killer. Shortly after, it was reported that police had used public DNA databases to determine his identity.
This extraordinary event highlights that when you send off a cheek swab to one of the private genome companies, you may sacrifice not just your own privacy but that of your family and your ancestors.
In a time of widespread anxiety over the misuse of social media, Americans should also be concerned over who has access to their genetic information.
For-profit genome testing companies like 23andMe make money, in part, by selling anonymized genomic data. Many people may not realize that re-identifying genomes – that is, identifying an individual from their genetic profile – is a relatively straightforward process. In one study, researchers could re-identify five of 10 people, as well as their families.
Humans share about 99 percent of their DNA bases with one another. The few differences that exist are often sufficient to figure out who’s related to whom.
The genome has been something of a disappointment medically. Physicians generally can’t do much with the information that a given patient has, say, a 3 percent greater risk of dementia. But those data are potentially very useful to insurance companies and employers trying lower their risk.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, a federal law passed in 2008, prevents insurance companies and employers from forcing people to undergo genetic testing. But it doesn’t necessarily prevent bad actors from using dark-web databases and advanced analytics to give themselves a commercial edge.
There have been no reports yet of companies doing this. But we live in an age in which it seems the possible becomes probable on an almost daily basis.
The financial services industry offers a cautionary tale for the customers of the genome industry. Banks are highly regulated and supposed to provide state-of-the-art protection, yet they have been hacked.
Compared to financial institutions, genome companies are lightly regulated. Eventually one or more of them will be hacked or even caught selling “risk profiling” services to third parties.
With respect to police and prosecutors, the situation is somewhat different. In the end, they must submit their work to the courts. It’s possible that setting up a fake account on an ancestor DNA website, as the California police reportedly did, constitutes unreasonable search and seizure.
Given the large financial rewards and the behavior of other industries, millions of American families should likely consider their genomic privacy as already compromised. If the genome of one of your relatives is in one of these databases, then essentially so is yours.
In the uncommon circumstance that a whole family has not one member who has yet to send off a cheek swab, that family might want to consider opting out of this whole thing until society sorts out risks, benefits and privacy protections.
Most people, however, will have to wait and hope they will not be harmed by a genomic revolution that has provided them with little benefit.
‘Grow a spine’: Florida columnist hammers Marco Rubio for being a Trump apologist
Like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio went from being a blistering critic of Donald Trump during the 2016 GOP presidential primary to being someone who rarely criticizes the president. And a columnist in Rubio’s back yard, Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times, lambasts the Florida Republican in a blistering opinion piece published with the headline, “Will Marco Rubio Ever Stand Up to Donald Trump?”
Denouncing Rubio as a “cowering apologist” for Trump, Ruth asserts, “You would think for the $174,000-a-year one gets for the part-time job of U.S. senator, every now and then Rubio might actually stand for something, anything, remotely resembling a principle. Too heavy a lift?”
Fox’s Judge Napolitano blasts Trump’s ‘profound violation’ of the Constitution
Fox News personalities Neil Cavuto and Andrew Napolitano blasted the White House’s announcement on Thursday that the United States will host the upcoming G7 meeting of world leaders at President Donald Trump’s own Doral resort in Miami, Florida.
“Just the appearance level alone, the president of the United States rewarding his family-run business and perhaps one of its premier money-makers, the Doral Club Resort, to host this big event. The spillover effect from that, even at cost, is very good for whatever locale you choose,” Cavuto said. (In fact, Trump’s club appears to be in dire financial straits.)
‘Malevolent Kraken’: Tulsi Gabbard slammed after attacking Clinton over ‘Russian asset’ claim
Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii launched an attack against her own party and her own party's most-recent presidential nominee late Friday afternoon, as reports grew that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia is grooming an unnamed but current 2020 presidential candidate, a woman, to run as a third-party candidate.