Before recent events that have blown open a cold-case in the Twin Cities, I had strongly thought about whether or not I should do one of those many DNA testing packages to find out my family lineage. As someone that is fairly certain that he is predominantly of Norwegian-ancestry, I am intrigued to find out the other 50 percent of my genealogical makeup is. I have been told that my father’s side of the family is of German and Polish descent, but there is a large swatch of different European countries that could be in the mix.
First off, I want to mention that unlike the recent issue with a former Elbow Lake man and that of the Golden State Killer, I have not committed an alleged crime that would put me in fear of being outed (but there might be a few missing pieces of cake that I could be linked to). This would be my first fear in regards to ever doing a DNA test. What happens if my DNA is confused with someone else’s that could potentially put me behind bars?
One of the bigger issues that have been brought up is the issue of genetic health. The scenario that is laid out by several anti-DNA testers is one of applying for medical coverage. Let’s say that the DNA testing equipment discovers that you are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer or Alzheimer’s disease and an insurance company has this information. Many people with preexisting conditions can tell you how fun it is to try and find insurance. This is very different from the medical records that are kept at your local hospital as these businesses can sell the DNA evidence to different corporations or people.
I know that this sounds like a bit of paranoia, but many never thought that Facebook would give away your information and look where we are at today. According to MIT Technology Review, over 26 million people have shared their DNA with the four leading ancestry and health databases. The review also mentioned that the widely popular 23andMe sold its DNA data to 13 drug companies. The reasoning for their purchase had to do with creating better pharmaceuticals by looking through the genes of people with diseases such as Parkinson’s.
This leaves me at a crossroads in the idea of providing such data to any one of these groups. That is why the terms of agreement are so important when signing up for something that you believe is “free” without strings attached. Many people are willing to give information away through different online apps, quizzes and sign-ups.
Other sources claim that it is just a matter of time before these companies have enough DNA information that they may not need yours. In the case of the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody after DNA at the crime scene was put into a DNA service and traced DeAngelo through distant relatives. The site that law enforcement obtained the information stated it warned users that their genetic information could be used for other purposes. That’s scary, even if you did help catch a criminal.
Despite knowing that it may be inevitable, I think I will wait on sending over my DNA information until later in life or our government puts better regulations in place. It is interesting, but I want to be able to enjoy some privacy in my life.
Zach Stich is the managing editor of The Daily Journal. His column appears each Thursday.