The iPhone Is Just the Beginning: FBI Already Accessing Your DNA

DNA-FBIBy Jake Anderson

Private genetic databases like 23andMe and are increasingly used by people for genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests. With a million customers each, the two companies receive a great deal of attention from privacy advocates, who for years warned the government would eventually seek access to citizens’ DNA in order to assist with law enforcement.

They were right, and yet another conspiracy theory becomes conspiracy fact…

It turns out both the FBI and local law enforcement departments routinely seek DNA samples from these companies for familial DNA searches. In fact, according to’s recently released transparency report, the company received 14 law enforcement requests in 2015. They provided customers’ information in 13 of those cases.

A similar, recently released report by 23andMe discloses there were four law enforcement requests to the company in 2015.

The issue has received increased attention in part because of a frightening article by Wired. The story recounted the legal imbroglio filmmaker Michael Usry endured after Idaho Falls police “matched 34 of 35 alleles” from a crime scene to Usry’s father’s DNA.

Years earlier, his father had donated some DNA to a genealogy project funded by his Mormon church. purchased the project and made the database of samples publicly available. Though Idaho Falls police ultimately concluded Usry was not involved in the murder of Angie Dodge, they had been able to obtain a search warrant for Michael’s cheek cells based on the sample they found online. didn’t realize police would be able to use their information to conduct genetic searches, but as they would soon learn, law enforcement authorities around the country are looking to expand their ability to conduct DNA searches beyond the FBI’s current national genetic database.

Anti-Media reached out to for more information regarding how the company responds to national security requests. They referred to their transparency report, which states:

As of December 31, 2015, Ancestry has never received a classified request pursuant to the national security laws of the United States or any other country. In other words, Ancestry has not received a National Security Letter or a request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Could this change in the wake of a terrorist attack? In the midst of the increasingly rancorous debate over civil liberties and national defense — epitomized by the FBI’s court case against Apple — it doesn’t seem like too big of a stretch, given the right political climate, to imagine private DNA databases being turned over to Homeland Security.

In Kuwait, citizens must submit their DNA to a government database to assist with criminal cases. Some actually argue the United States should have a similar mandatory DNA database, though this seems unlikely to gain widespread support given the backlash over electronic privacy violations in the aftermath of controversial NSA surveillance programs.

For now, the debate revolves around whether the United States government and local law enforcement should have the legal authority to access private DNA databases while investigating crimes. There hasn’t been a major Supreme Court ruling on this issue, so for the time being, companies like 23andMe and will have to deal with police requests on a case-by-case basis.

As 23andMe’s first privacy officer Kate Black has stated:

In the event we are required by law to make a disclosure, we will notify the affected customer through the contact information provided to us, unless doing so would violate the law or a court order.

This article (The iPhone Is Just the Beginning: FBI Already Accessing Your DNA) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: thierry ehrmann. If you spot a typo, email

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6 Comments on "The iPhone Is Just the Beginning: FBI Already Accessing Your DNA"

  1. I called them [23&me] the last time an article like this came out & they swore they would not give anything out without a warrant…. Hmmm

    • – this is quite an around they are pushing toward. I think letters need to be written to 23&me and Ancestry by anyone who has used these services. Be sure to also set anything you do on these sites as private as well.

    • Today, a warrant is a meaningless piece of paper that any redneck LEO can obtain from a half drunk justice of the peace.

      • Taking care of business! | March 12, 2016 at 5:03 am | Reply

        And who says they have to be rednecked? Your sense of superiority is showing. Not all you allude to are as you suppose. You’ve failed to mention a graver issue: the irresponsibility of some police in invading homes without a “warrant”–“meaningless piece of paper”, or no. But for the slight, I agree with your assessment.

  2. WomanPatriot | March 11, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Reply

    I emailed 23andMe and asked if the Gov. has access to their DNA data base. They told me there were some requests from the FDA but they (23andMe) blocked them from getting them. They said should the FDA request my data, they would inform me that they had to turn it over by law. Well, not that I’m a terrorist, but once you give a sample of your DNA, if the FDA wants it…they will get it. So being informed they had to turn it over, my privacy would be violated.
    I asked what the my DNA report would include and they said it would include my genetic background, as well as my health profile and issues that I could possibly expect.
    I didn’t mention to them that I had written the about three years ago and asked if they would be able to tell me about my health and they told me then that the FDA informed them they were not to give out health information, such as, you are not genetically inclined to get cancer or kidney problems…etc. The FDA does not want us to have this information about our own health. That forces us to rely on the opinion of doctors that have to hunt around to figure out what’s wrong with you. If you are one of those that will never get cancer, but you go to a doctor and he tells you, wrongly, that you have cancer and need chemo right away…well…the FDA knows best…eh?
    So, to wrap this up, I did not send my DNA sample as for one, I don’t trust 23andMe to tell me the truth, as their information was already different from three years ago and two, I don’t trust the government with it. It puts the government in a position to make you the scapegoat to one of their nefarious projects, when they need one.
    It is unfortunate our government has lied and still lies to us citizens every day so our distrust of them is earned and I can say I will never trust them. I will keep my DNA to myself…thank you very much!

  3. Taking care of business! | March 12, 2016 at 4:41 am | Reply

    I Hitler only had the technology our Hitler has.

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