Family Tree DNA, one of the largest at-home DNA testing companies in the U.S., has allowed the FBI to gain access to its database of more than a million DNA profiles in order to help solve violent crimes, according to a new BuzzFeed News report.
Family Tree DNA in a statement to The Hill said it has tested DNA samples provided by the FBI to help "identify perpetrators of violent crimes and to identify the remains of deceased individuals."
The company since last year has allowed the FBI use its genealogy database, the first time a private company has allowed a federal law enforcement agency to use its DNA data to investigate crimes.
“We came to the conclusion that if law enforcement created accounts, with the same level of access to the database as the standard FamilyTreeDNA user, they would not be violating user privacy and confidentiality,” Family Tree DNA founder and CEO Bennett Greenspan said in the statement.
The FBI declined to comment to The Hill.
Family Tree DNA has tested DNA samples and uploaded those profiles to its database on behalf of the FBI less than 10 times since last fall, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
The Family Tree database can be used by anybody hoping to upload a DNA profile, not only the private company's customers.
Investigative genealogy has played an increasingly important role in solving crimes over the past several years. Detectives have uploaded DNA collected from a crime scene to genealogy databases, enabling them to locate relatives of suspected criminals. From there, it is possible to create a genealogical tree that points law enforcement back to the suspect of the crime.
Family Tree DNA said in the statement that customers could make their profiles unsearchable to the FBI by opting out of the tool that allows them to find their relatives.
The company also said the FBI would have to have a "subpoena or search warrant" to access any data beyond what is available on the public database.
The database includes DNA information on more than a million users, most of whom were not aware that the company had a relationship with the FBI.
“I would be very against Family Tree DNA allowing law enforcement to have open access to their DNA database,” a research associate at the University College London told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t think it’s right for law enforcement to use a database without the informed consent of the consumer.”
— Updated 12:08 p.m.