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Ancestry refuses search warrant that could have seen the DNA of 16 million people handed over to police

Ancestry has revealed in its 2019 transparency report that officials tried to get access to its entire database; a request it denied

Ancestry, and similar genealogy services offering DNA tests, are prime targets for law enforcement as having databases full of the DNA of millions of people could help solve, or at least rule out suspects, in crimes from theft to murder.

 So it’s no surprise that in 2019, Ancestry has revealed it was served multiple requests from US officials for access to individual user information including one warrant that demanded access to its entire database of 16 million records. 

According to its latest Transparency Report, the genealogy site received a total of nine valid law enforcement requests, to which it provided information for six out of these nine.  

Eight of the nine requests related to criminal investigations involving credit card misuse, fraud, and identity theft.

Two of the nine were refused on the basis that the requestor “failed to obtain the appropriate legal process” and one request – the request for full access to the database – was refused on “jurisdictional grounds.” 

The warrant reportedly came from a court in Pennsylvania, Ancestry told BuzzFeed News’ Peter Aldous, and “was improperly served” meaning Ancestry did not provide any access or customer data and has not received any follow up from law enforcement on this matter.

“Ancestry does not voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement,” explains the company. “To provide our users with the greatest protection under the law, we require all government agencies seeking access to Ancestry customers’ data to follow valid legal process and do not allow law enforcement to use Ancestry’s services to investigate crimes or to identify human remains.”

It adds that it will only release “basic subscriber information” as defined in US Code about Ancestry users and only in response to a valid trial, grand jury or subpoena. If more detailed information is requested, such as the contents of communications held on the site as well as any data relating to the DNA of a user, Ancestry will only release it “pursuant to a valid search warrant from a government agency with proper jurisdiction.”

It is the latter reference to “proper jurisdiction” that Ancestry seemingly refused the Pennsylvania warrant on, suggesting the court does not have the legal power to access such files, but specifics have not been released. 

Ancestry does not own the right to your DNA once it’s stored, so if any user wants to remove their records from the site they can do so by going to the DNA tab within their account and requesting the records are deleted

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