Ancestry.com Denied Law Enforcement Access to its DNA Database
- In Ancestry.com’s annual Transparency Report, the company revealed that it denied a request from law enforcement to access its DNA databases.
- This was one of nine data requests that came from law enforcement in 2019. The remaining eight were not related to DNA, and were pertaining to credit card misuse, fraud, and identity theft.
- Ancestry said it only gave information in response to six of the requests but maintained that the privacy of its users is its “top priority.”
- While police having access to these kinds of databases has caused concern in the past, DNA collected from these sites has been used to make arrests in the past, including the arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer.
Ancestry Denies Access
Ancestry.com denied a law enforcement request to access its DNA database, according to its 2019 Transparency Report.
“Ancestry received one request seeking access to Ancestry’s DNA database through a search warrant,” the report explained. “Ancestry challenged the warrant on jurisdictional grounds and did not provide any customer data in response.”
According to BuzzFeed News, that request came from a court in Pennsylvania. Ancestry told BuzzFeed that the warrant was improperly served.
“Ancestry has not received any follow up from law enforcement on this matter,” Ancestry told the outlet.
Reports indicate that Ancestry has about 16 million DNA profiles in its user database. In 2019, they received nine requests from law enforcement to access their user data. The request from Pennsylvania was the only one seeking Ancestry’s DNA database. The remaining eight involved credit card misuse, fraud, and identity theft.
The majority of the requests came on the state level, with only two coming from federal authorities. Seven of the requests were criminal subpoenas, and the remaining two were search warrants.
Ancestry Takes the Side of Privacy
Ancestry said they only gave information in response to six out of the nine requests. They maintain that they want to protect their customers’ privacy, referring to it as their “top priority” in their transparency report.
“Not only will we not share customer information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant, we will also always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely,” the company said in a statement obtained by Axios.
They are not alone in taking the side of protecting privacy. 23andme, their largest competitor, has taken the same stance, and vows to protect the information they have from their 10 million profiles.
Some similar but smaller companies do share information. Family Tree DNA allows police to access data, and so does GEDmatch. However, while GEDmatch used to be open, users must now opt into allowing that access.
Cases Solved by DNA Websites
The conversation around whether or not that data, which is submitted by users, should remain private is an ongoing conversation. Some of these users may not even know that the information they submit can be requested by officers. Still, companies like Ancestry have a large collection of genetic data, and law enforcement could find this data useful when solving criminal cases.
In fact, genealogy websites have been used in the past to solve high-profile crimes. They played a huge hand in catching the alleged Golden State Killer. Joseph James DeAngelo, who is suspected of being behind a series of rapes and murders in California in the 70s and 80s, was arrested back in 2018. Authorities narrowed their search down to him using GEDmatch.
According to the Sacramento Bee, investigators used GEDmatch to match crime-scene DNA with information supplied by one of his relatives. DNA collection sites have been used to solve other types of crime too, including a case of identity theft.
But, the use of these cases does not come without their legal question marks. Paul Holes, a retired investigator who led the investigation into the Golden State Killer told BuzzFeed that he thinks this could be a debate we have for a while.
“Of course there are going to be legal battles,” he said. “It would not surprise me, years down the road, if this could be a US Supreme Court issue.”
As far as what Ancestry would ever do if this issue did ever make its way to the Supreme Court, it seems it would still stand its ground.
“[W]e will also always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely,” a spokesperson told Axios.
See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Axios) (Fortune)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.