DNA Decoding: Could genetic testing companies be violating your privacy?

DNA Decoding: Could genetic testing companies be violating your privacy? (File: Sinclair Broadcast Group)

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - It's a database that's continuously growing.

According to Ancestry.com, 7 million people are trying to find out more about their ancestors, but what they're finding out is that their privacy may not be protected.

Shane Kinder works in master control at FOX 45 and wanted answers.

"This past Christmas I actually purchased the DNA testing from Ancestry.com," he said.

Those results told him something he never knew.

"My great grandfather actually was from a family of 13," Kinder said.

"I know where he lived in Dayton, on Monument which is no longer housing anymore, but I can actually see the spot," he continued. "I ended up finding their graves."

Those weren't the only answers he got.

"Turns out when I got my results back turns out that my top percentage which was that 36 percent was Great Britain," Kinder said. "So turns out I'm English somehow that I don't know about."

What he also didn't know was that the information or DNA he sent to Ancestry.com could end up in the hands of police.

"Whether this is legal or not is currently an open question," Erica Goldberg, Assistant Professor of Law at The University of Dayton, said.

She said there's one argument that says yes.

"Once you expose information to the public you've given up your right to privacy," said Goldberg.

But on the other hand, you still have your rights.

"You have Fourth Amendment rights where you could challenge that search any way," she said,

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Companies like Ancestry.com,and 23andMe both insist they would not give your information to police without a warrant or subopoena.

"They're now fighting," Goldberg said. "Any time the police request this information, they fight it."

Ancestry.com issued the following statement: " It's important to note that in all of 2015 and 2016, we received no valid legal requests for genetic information."

23andMe went one step further, saying: "To date, we have have not released any information to law enforcement."

"They're fighting this because they don't believe that police are allowed to get access to this information without a warrant," Goldberg said.

"It is kind of an invasion of privacy," Kinder said.

Kinder, while not worried about his information being public, can see the argument from others who are worried.

"You start to think you voluntarily give this to just find out some information and then it can actually be used against you at a later date," he said.

"I think the court is more likely to say you didn't turn this over in such a public way and it's such sensitive informaiton that you still have a reasonable expectation of privacy in it," Goldberg said.

Goldberg said you can take steps to protect yourself.

"I think consumers should be weary," she said. "And I would once I receive the report from Ancestry.com, just delete it from their databases."

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