Recognized as the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, Ancestry.com is one of the most popular websites for those who are interested in learning more about their family's history. With millions of satisfied customers to date, it should come to no surprise that law enforcement officials also use the service when trying to track down wanted criminals.
A Goldmine for Law Enforcement
Although it's steeped in controversy, law enforcement agencies regularly make requests for information from Ancestry.com – many of which they fulfill. Per the Ancestry 2019 Transparency Report, the company unveiled that they received a total of nine legitimate requests – beyond the request of DNA data – from law enforcement. They provided the information requested in six of those cases. The report goes on to indicate that eight of the requests were specifically related to various criminal investigations, including credit card fraud.
In addition, one request specifically sought access to Ancestry.com's entire DNA database – a request that was denied and challenged on jurisdictional grounds. In fact, Ancestry.com has only complied with one DNA request in their entire history – a scenario that occurred in 2014.
A spokesperson for Ancestry.com stated: "Ancestry received one request seeking access to Ancestry’s DNA database through a search warrant. Ancestry challenged the warrant on jurisdictional grounds and did not provide any customer data in response. Ancestry also refused numerous inquiries on the basis that the requestor failed to obtain the appropriate legal process."
Finally, the recent report from Ancestry.com stated that they have "never received a classified request pursuant to the national security laws of the United States or any other country." Ancestry.com publishes their Transparency Reports on an annual basis, all of which are available on their website.
It's safe to say that Ancestry.com is certainly pro consumer. Although they often receive data requests from various law enforcement agencies, they only comply when the requests are made through the appropriate legal process. Moreover, they only provide information when it's crucial to law enforcement efforts.
On top of all this, it seems that governmental requests for data appear to be declining. While there were 34 total requests in 2017, that number dropped to 10 in 2018 and only nine in 2019. This is surprising – especially when you consider that one of the primary selling points of Ancestry.com's DNA database was law enforcement.
It's also important to note that Ancestry.com is not the only genealogy company in operation today. There are several popular competitors, including 23andMe, that are also leveraged by law enforcement personnel. However, both Ancestry.com and 23andMe have enacted internal policies that forbid the sharing of DNA data for crime-solving purposes unless specifically pressured by law enforcement.
While this stance only adds to the controversy, the companies insist that such policies are in place to protect user privacy and the personal information of those who sign up for their services. In the 21st century, with consumer privacy such a hotbed of debate, they face stark criticism on either side of the coin.
For more information on Ancestry.com and their comprehensive DNA database, please visit their official site at www.ancestry.com. To find out more about 23andMe, head over to their website at www.23andme.com.
U.S. Government Requests DNA Data from Ancestry
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