It doesn’t seem so long ago that we decoded DNA for the first time. It was a massive achievement, with many scientists pushing to finally understand human genetic code. Now, genetic testing is accessible for many Americans. Genetic tests are advertised as great gifts, fun for the whole family, and pushed in television advertisements. When these companies first appeared, a few canaries in the coal mine wondered: how much privacy are we willing to lose? Since regulation has not stepped up enough to protect consumers, we’re finding out the hard way how much we can lose.
Millennials and Gen Z both have given up many expectations of privacy, trading it largely for convenience. With DNA testing, one is trading privacy for knowledge. The big problem is that when a customer uploads their DNA, they are not only giving up their privacy. They are also giving up the privacy of their relatives, near and far. In more innocent cases, this has deconstructed sperm donor anonymity. It is unlikely sperm banks can prevent children borne of donation from taking a genetic test. After all, they can argue its for their health, to find genetic diseases. In more pressing circumstances, this has led to cracking open cold cases. The Golden State Killer was caught last year thanks to GEDMatch, decades after the case went cold. While many applaud his capture, many wonder about the ethics of it. Since the Golden State Killer was caught, more cold cases are being re-examined with the help of DNA companies. A Minnesota man was arrested two days ago in connection with a 1993 murder, because he tossed a napkin at a hockey game. He was identified with the help of one of the DNA companies, then authorities retrieved the napkin DNA sample to confirm the match.
I, personally, received a DNA kit from my mother last Christmas. I learned nothing amazing from it, but at the time, didn’t really value my privacy either. Now I wonder: will I accidentally ruin a family member?
Can DNA as evidence be considered ethical? How should DNA privacy be handled?