Here at The Free Thought Project, we strive for accuracy, transparency and accountability. Last week, we published a story that claimed Ancestry.com owned, Sorenson Molecular Genealogy database, had allegedly shared customer DNA information with police, without a warrant initially being presented.
The report was based on an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report, published on May 1. The EFF report claimed that Sorenson promised volunteers their genetic data would only be used for “genealogical services, including the determination of family migration patterns and geographic origins’ and would not be shared outside Sorenson.”
The EFF report went on to claim “without a warrant or court order, investigators asked the lab to run the crime scene DNA against Sorenson’s private genealogical DNA database.”
This information is not factually correct, as Sorenson’s database is publicly available and police did not ask the lab to run the crime scene DNA outside of the standard operating procedure the lab uses for all citizens submitting specimens.
Upon reviewing the police affidavit, it’s clear that police submitted the sample to the public database, as if they were a citizen off the street, without any official police contact with Sorenson.
The initial search was conducted via the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation’s (SMGF) database. This is a public database with de-identified genetic information, where individuals voluntarily participate and provide a DNA sample and genealogy information.
Anyone who participates in the research study with SMGF, signs a consent form that states that the de-identified genetic profile information will be placed into the publicly available SMGF database.
Sorenson held the identifying information confidential in this case until police presented a warrant forcing them to then divulge that information.
While this case should give people pause in regard to using publicly available DNA databases, which police can query, there was no activity by the company outside of their specified terms.
We sincerely apologize to our readers for publishing a story based on fallacious information. Our goal above all else is to be transparent in this process. Rather than attempting to hide where we went wrong, we prefer to admit our mistake, point out source information that was false and work to reveal the truth.