Posted by Eric Heath on November 8, 2019 in Website

Your privacy is important to us. That’s why we want to share our position on a recent event where a Florida judge issued a search warrant to allow law enforcement to search all of GEDmatch, an open data personal genomics database. Following the issuance of the search warrant, GEDmatch opened its database of nearly one million users — beyond those who had consented to such access — within 24 hours. Ancestry believes that GEDmatch could have done more to protect the privacy of its users, by pushing back on the warrant or even challenging it in court. Their failure to do so is highly irresponsible, and deeply concerning to all of us here at Ancestry. GEDmatch’s actions stand in stark contrast to our values and commitment to our customers. 

We want to be clear – protecting our customers’ privacy and being good stewards of their data is our highest priority. Not only will we not share customer information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant, we will also always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely. You can find more information on our privacy philosophy here

Additionally, each year we release a transparency report that outlines law enforcement requests for member data. To date, we have received no valid requests for information related to genetic information of any Ancestry member, nor have we disclosed any such information to law enforcement.

With regard to this situation, we, together with our partners at The Coalition for Genetic Data Protection, which was formed to advance business practices that ensure the privacy and security of an individual’s genetic data, have issued the following statement:

The Coalition for Genetic Data Privacy is deeply concerned by the recent decision by GEDMatch — a publicly accessible genetic database that is neither a member of our Coalition nor a signatory to the Best Practices — to not challenge the search warrant in the interests of their users’ privacy.

The Coalition believes that individuals deserve the full protection of the law when it comes to their personal and genetic data. This includes an obligation by companies who process genetic data to commit resources to closely scrutinize and challenge the validity of any warrant, including where the warrant may infringe on individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights.

When our users choose to upload their personal genetic data to other services that do not adhere to our Best Practices, they should carefully consider the commitments made by such services as they relate to law enforcement access.

It is incumbent on any company entrusted with sensitive personal information, including genetic data, to approach the issue of law enforcement access with a high degree of scrutiny, transparency, and prioritization of customer privacy.

We deeply value our Ancestry community and remain fiercely committed to providing a protected environment for journeys of personal discovery.

Eric Heath

Chief Privacy Officer, Ancestry

20 Comments

  1. Aaron

    Thank you for getting out in front of this. How can we possibly convince our relatives to take DNA tests with GEDMatch driving the narrative? I hope someone develops a privacy minded tool where we can do segment analysis that isn’t a law enforcement honeypot.

  2. Davis

    Privacy is an important issue when it comes to business with customers.The samedaypapers.com helps the people to read research paper for understanding the way of writing essay on privacy.I see the bright future of your company and I hope you will keep same consistency.

  3. Jones

    Thank you for the information and for the stance Ancestry has taken. DNA should be absolutely private unless intentionally and voluntarily shared by the principal or acquired through valid court order with limited scope and which is also based on probable cause, due process and need to know. Privacy is foundational to both the purpose and collaboration of this platform. Ancestry is demonstrating the ultimate good faith in its compact with users. Very appreciated and applauded.

  4. Sandra

    I read the Nov 5th article “Your DNA Profile is Private? A Florida Judge Just Said Otherwise” in the New York Times and noted you had not responded to a request for a comment, so thank you for this. Like Aaron, I believe that if the enthusiastic detective quoted in the article got his wish, it would make it even harder than it already is for us to get relatives to take the Ancestry DNA test. I hope you will now give your statement to the New York Times, at least in a Letter to the Editor. As an adoptee, I am grateful for the size of Ancestry’s database. Using the same method as the detective would presumably use to solve unsolved crimes, I have been able to identify both of my birth parents, but, believe me, it doesn’t happen overnight as Detective Fields thinks! On the other hand, I’m not against solving unsolved crimes, if a way could be found to do it without invading our privacy.

  5. Barbara

    Having a strong privacy policy is a good thing. Attacking someone else who followed a lawful court order in an effort to make yourself look better is a cheap shot and completely unnecessary. I’m very disappointed in your approach.

  6. Neil

    Whilst I agree privacy is important I would agree with Barbara. Perhaps you could be assisting Gedmatch? They started off as a free service and while they make money it is nothing like the financial resources ancestry has. Many of us who are ancestry customers have to use Gedmatch if we want access to a chromosome browser. So whilst they could have been a bit stronger in their resolve I understand why they decided they couldn’t.

  7. Janice

    Thank you Ancestry! The Florida judge was wrong to issue such a broad search warrant. As for gedmatch, they probably lacked the resources to fight it.

  8. Ernest Kapphahn

    I appreciate your concern about privacy but I fail to see how the dna information you hold could not be considered evidence. If a police detective is investigating a crime he can go to a magistrate in his or her jurisdiction with a search warrant affidavit. If the affidavit provides probable cause that you are holding evidence that is pertinent to the case and could identify the suspect, the magistrate will issue a search warrant to obtain that evidence. No one’s consent is required. The rule Gedmatch had established only covered the consent search situation. They and all other dna sites will have to adhere to the law where search warrants are involved. There are interesting legal questions. Does a suspect whose dna is legally taken as evidence at a crime scene have a right to have evidence suppressed when it is owned or held by an un-involved party? Can a person who is not charged with any crime withhold evidence that may identify a suspect? What constitutes evidence in a digital database? Are the work products of a genealogy company (its matches) subject to a search warrant? Can a court order a company that does not accept uploaded data to accept an upload from law enforcement? Should you argue this matter in court, we should get answers.

  9. Sandy

    Had Ancestry given its users the chromosome browser we have been requesting for years, most of us would not be on GEDmatch. It is disingenuous to charge high subscription fees, not offer what every serious genetic genealogist uses as a basic DNA tool, and then throw shade on a largely free service that many of us have turned to due to Ancestry’s omission as it struggles to keep up with its role in the crime solving spotlight.

  10. Mindy

    I am sad to hear ancestry takes such a stance! Privacy is one thing but trying to find a killer or one who has done some horrible things, I don’t consider that a privacy issue. Too bad ancestry continues to feel the NEED to NOT help law enforcement on ANY of these horrible issues.
    Is that the reason WHY we don’t have a chromosome browser?? Because ancestry is so dead set to NOT have to deal with investigators!! RIGHT ON GEDMATCH you are many many people’s HERO!! And ancestry,,,, GEDmatch is FREE FREE FREE

  11. Martin

    Glad to see Ancestry making this statement that it will do everything within its power to protect users privacy.

    GedMatch sad to say has lost the trust of many if it’s users, starting back in May of this year and in recent days many friends and acquaintances in the genealogy field have deleted their GedMatch accounts, myself included. GedMatch is not totally to blame, it seems to me that US lax privacy laws need to be beefed up bringing them to level of those in the EU.

    I note that Ancestry is signed up to the EU-US Privacy Shield, which GedMatch isn’t, so makes me think how seriously do they take their users Privacy.

  12. Kay farr

    A florida judge has no right to any dna i have submitted to gedmatch as i & the persons whose dna i have submiited are NOT american citizens. Gedmatch should contact all those whose dna was accessed, apologise & explain how they are going to prevent it happening again

  13. VThomp

    Good luck Gedmatch doesn’t care how anyone feels about invasive and broad searches by law enforcement, in fact the are pro law enforcement access.

  14. Jenna P.

    I have more of a problem with sites selling my info to “partners”. But someone who violates another person’s physical wellbeing by assault, robbery, murder, should have their privacy protected? Nope, I don’t disagree with Gedmatch on this one.

  15. Terry

    Law enforcement does not want your genetic data, nor is it being shared with them. They are looking at DNA profiles that match crime scene DNA. PROFILES. NOT GENETIC DATA. From there they build a family tree in the hope of finding a clue to who the perpetrator is – a clue from your DNA profile. It’s not like they are getting GENETIC DATA, like customer GENETIC DATA that Ancestry and 23andME are sharing with their pharmaceutical partners for tons of money. Think about it, law enforcement has used the PROFILES of DNA MATCHES to arrest dozens of killers and rapists. Hmmm. And to all of the ancestry genealogists who are screaming about privacy…answer this question: Why is it okay to share DNA PROFILES with complete strangers – adopted parents, unknown family members, etc – but you are flipping off law enforcement trying to arrest killers and rapists? Really? God forbid it was your mother or daughter who was victimized – and law enforcement had to say, “Well, we have the tools to find him, but, well, we’re not allowed to, sorry.” I call B.S. on beating up GEDmatch, Ancestry.

  16. Connie

    Small companies don’t have the resources to fight warrants. GEDmatch and others are acting as a shield for companies like Ancestry. The fact that they are willing to work with law enforcement keeps the agencies from knocking on Ancestry’s door. You should be thanking them.

  17. Theresa

    Thank you, Ancestry. I watch these issues closely and and pleased to see you assuring the users that their data will still be protected. After this most recent incident, I was strongly considering recommending that all my family delete their DNA data. Since I’ve seen your statement, I’m on hold on that, but as soon as Ancestry changes its stance, I’m done with DNA genealogy and will recommend the same to my entire family.

  18. Connie Brown

    If you and your immediate family members abide by the law, why should you care? I thought it was great and innovative GEDmatch was used to get that scum out of the populace. He had violated and disrupted so many lives.

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