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Can police legally obtain your DNA from 23andMe, Ancestry? 

Can police legally obtain your DNA from 23andMe, Ancestry? 

Can police legally obtain your DNA from 23andMe, Ancestry? 
Photo Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer
23andMe kits at the 2017 Streamy Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on September 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for dick clark productions)

Can police legally obtain your DNA from 23andMe, Ancestry? 

The DNA you send in the mail through genetics kits and genealogy programs like 23andMe and Ancestry  can be used by police in a criminal investigation, but it doesn’t happen very often.

» RELATED: 7 things you need to know before you send your spit to 23andMe

More than 1.2 million customers have sent their saliva to 23andMe to learn about their own genetics, though not everyone is aware that police can potentially have access to their DNA.

>> Read more trending news

“We try to make information available on the website in various forms, so through Frequently Asked Questions, through information in our privacy center,” 23andMe privacy officer Kate Black told Action News Jax Thursday.

» RELATED: Bill would allow companies to collect employee genetics information 

Police have only requested information from 23andMe for five Americans and, according to 23andMe reports, the company didn’t turn over any information.

“In each of these cases, 23andMe successfully resisted the request and protected our customers’ data from release to law enforcement,” Black and colleague Zerina Curevac wrote in a blog post last year.

But Black said she wouldn’t rule out the possibility in the future and seeks to review requests on “a case-by-case basis.”

» RELATED: Not ready for kids? New, affordable at-home fertility test gives women better data on eggs, fertility timeline

In the 23andMe blog post, Black and Curevac address multiple privacy concerns and questions involving law enforcement and their DNA.

They write that typically police will collect the DNA of an unknown suspect at a crime scene and compare it to the federal government’s genetic information database, the Combined DNA Index System or “CODIS.”

» RELATED: DNA may determine whether you're an early or late riser

Using CODIS, police can run a search to see if the DNA matches that of a convicted offender or arrestee profile in the database. They can also run a “familial search” to identify close biological relatives.

If no matches are found, police may turn to privately owned databases.

But 23andMe and other ancestry tools aren’t likely to be useful to law enforcement agencies or to the government, Black and Curevac wrote.

Their genetic tests can’t be used to match CODIS information or information in other governmental databases because the genotyping technology is very different.

» RELATED: DNA match ties man to nearly 30-year-old rape case

And even if police are presented with a situation in which the testing would be useful, they would still face tough legal and technical limitations.

These limitations are usually enough to persuade police to back off their requests, according to the blog.

23andMe posts law enforcement requests on its public Transparency Report.

While police have been unable to obtain DNA information from 23andMe, in 2014, Ancestry self-reported that it released a customer’s DNA sample to police in compliance with a search warrant.

» RELATED: Ancestry.com search nabs ID thief, police say

According to Ancestry’s website, the company “requires valid legal process in order to produce information about our users. We comply with legitimate requests in accordance with applicable law.”

The investigation involved the 1996 murder and rape of 18-year-old Angie Dodge in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Mashable reported. Police believed there was another person involved in addition to Christopher Tapp, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1998.

The 2014 Ancestry results found a close (but not exact) match, which police believed to be Tapp’s relative.

After showing up at donor Michael Usry Jr.’s doorstep in New Orleans for a six-hour interrogation and taking a blood sample, police determined it wasn’t a match, Mashable reported.

Ancestry’s Transparency Report states that the company received nine valid law enforcement requests in 2016 and provided information on eight of the requests to government agencies. All were related to credit card misuse and identity theft.

» RELATED: Ancestry finds, interviews descendants of the Founding Fathers

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  • When most of northwest Georgia was preparing for severe storms, one city had to contend with the idea that snakes are lurking in sewers — or so they thought.  Calhoun mayor Jimmy Palmer said ­the “City of Calhoun, Gordon County GA” Facebook page — where a post about a snakes originated — is fake.  “My wife saw it and actually called me,” Palmer told Channel 2 Action News.  The post, which has been up since 2:27 p.m. Monday, alleges a Calhoun police officer killed the “copperhead as it came out of the sewer in front of the courthouse” and urges residents to avoid the sewers, which may have more snakes. The post has garnered 19,000 reactions and more than 123,000 shares on Facebook — and it still has some panicked.  RELATED: Satirical City of Atlanta page has people riled up again for post about Alabamians “I’ve had comments like ‘Is it safe to walk down the street’ and those things,” Palmer said. “I don’t think the people who put it on there realize the impact.”  The page, which has more than 12,000 followers, has been so believable other law enforcement agencies have tagged the page or shared its posts, Channel 2 reported. Police say it’s been difficult finding the owner since the page is usually taken down before the person is caught. The page was still open just after 8 p.m. Tuesday.  The city attorney plans to send a notice to Facebook notifying them of the fake page. The notice reads in part: “The objection is that this Facebook page impersonates and misrepresents to be the City’s official page by displaying a version of the official municipal seal and describes itself clearly as a “government organization.” Fake city pages are hardly new.  In October 2016, comedian Ben Palmer created a fake city of Atlanta Facebook page, poking fun at the city’s crime and public safety efforts. The city, however, responded to the Facebook page’s use of the trademarked Atlanta City Seal, which was used without proper use. Creative changes were made to the satirical page’s seal to avoid trademark conflicts.  MORE: Comedian’s fake Facebook page pokes fun at city of Atlanta But while the fake city of Atlanta page is still going strong (it has more than 154,000 followers), some are hoping the fake Calhoun page is removed from Facebook.  Calhoun Resident Matt Wiley told Channel 2 he is happy the city is adamant about the page’s removal: “For the sake of the city, that’s not a bad move just to make sure the people are informed. If you start spreading misinformation, panic might ensue, especially if it’s an alligator or a giant snake.”
  • The tempest over President Donald Trump's congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin quickly grew on Wednesday into an uproar over White House leaks, sparking an internal investigation and speculation over who might be the next person Trump forces out of the West Wing. The White House, which has suffered frequent leaks — at times of notable severity — said in a statement it would be a 'fireable offense and likely illegal' to leak Trump's briefing papers to the press, after word emerged that the president had been warned in briefing materials not to congratulate the Russian president on his re-election. Trump did so anyway, and on Wednesday he defended the call, saying George W. Bush did not have the 'smarts' to work with Putin, and that Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton 'didn't have the energy or chemistry' with the Russian leader. Aides had included guidance in Trump's talking points for the call to Putin stating: 'DO NOT CONGRATULATE,' a senior administration official said Wednesday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official had not been authorized to discuss internal matters. The document had been accessible only to a select group of staffers, two officials said, and had been drafted by aides to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. They also said there now is an internal probe of the leak but provided no other details. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The White House is not formally acknowledging the veracity of the presidential guidance first reported by The Washington Post. Trump defended his decision to congratulate Putin in his Wednesday tweets, saying Obama did the same in 2012. 'Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,' Trump said, adding that Russia can 'help solve problems' from North Korea to 'the coming Arms Race.' The White House statement earlier Wednesday about a possible firing was an unusual threat and an indication of the seriousness with which the administration is treating the latest breach. Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly are both angry over the disclosure, officials said, especially because of the small circle of distribution. Trump has told confidants that be believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him, said White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the president's thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president has suggested it was done by 'the deep state,' they said. That's the catchall phrase for career officials and the Washington establishment who, Trump believes, have tried to protect their own grasp on power by sabotaging him. Trump has insisted that maintaining a strong personal relationship with Putin is the United States' best chance of improving ties with Russia and has signaled to allies that he trusts his own instincts in dealing with the Russian president. Other leaks of classified material — including partial transcripts of Trump's calls with foreign leaders — have not garnered specific warnings of termination or criminal action. It was not clear whether this week's document was classified, but it was included with other classified papers. It also was unclear whether Trump, who prefers oral briefings, had read the talking points prepared by his national security team before Tuesday's call. McMaster briefed the president by phone before the conversation while Trump was in the White House residence. The leak further cast doubt on McMaster's longevity in the top foreign policy post. Trump has been moving toward replacing McMaster on the advice of Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but has not settled on timing or a successor. Trump's call of congratulations to Putin drew bruising criticism from members of his own party even before the revelation that he was advised against it. 'An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNN, 'I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal.' The call was the latest indicator of Trump's personal reluctance to publicly criticize Putin. The White House said Trump did not raise Russia's meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in Britain in the call with Putin. Trump did discuss the attack against Sergei Skripal Wednesday in a call with French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump also said he and Putin might meet 'in the not too distant future' to discuss the arms race and other matters. He said that during their hoped-for meeting the two men would likely discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump's call, noting Obama's similar call and saying, 'We don't get to dictate how other countries operate.' Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called the leak a 'bigger outrage' than Trump's congratulations for Putin. He said on Twitter that 'this ongoing pattern of duplicity holds potential for serious damage to the nation.' Russia has received global condemnation after Britain blamed Moscow for the recent nerve agent attack that sickened Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Russia has denied the accusation. Trump's call came at a period of heightened tension after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other 'malicious cyberattacks.' Sanders insisted that the administration has scolded Putin at the appropriate times. ___ Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story.
  • A 23-year-old suspected of planting deadly bombs that struck fear across Austin was described Wednesday by his uncle as a smart and kind 'computer geek' and a friend said he was an assertive person who would end up being 'kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation.' Neither had any idea what might have motivated Mark Anthony Conditt, who authorities say died after detonating a bomb in his sport utility vehicle as officers moved in for an arrest near Austin. The attacks in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio killed two people and wounded four others. 'I mean this is coming from nowhere. We just don't know what. I don't know how many ways to say it but everyone is caught off guard by this,' Conditt's uncle, Mike Courtney of Lakewood, Colorado, told The Associated Press. At a news conference Wednesday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said he considers a 25-minute recording on a cellphone found with Conditt a 'confession,' in which Conditt talks in great detail about the differences among the bombs he built. But Manley suggested that there might never be a clear motive, noting where the explosives were placed or addressed seems random. Conditt grew up in Pflugerville, a suburb just northeast of Austin where he was still living just a few miles from his parents' home after moving out. On Wednesday, authorities recovered homemade explosives from inside the residence, which he shared with roommates. Conditt's family said in a statement they had 'no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in.' Conditt was the oldest of four children who were all home-schooled. Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of Conditt's parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, said he watched Conditt grow up and that he always seemed 'smart' and 'polite.' Reeb, 75, said Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt regularly visited his parents, whom Reeb described as good neighbors. Conditt attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012 and was a business administration major, but he did not graduate, according to college spokeswoman Jessica Vess. She said records indicate that no disciplinary actions were made against Conditt. Although he worked for a time at an area manufacturing company, Gov. Greg Abbott told KXAN-TV in Austin that Conditt apparently was unemployed more recently and had no criminal record. Conditt left little discernable trace on social media. Aside from a few photos of him on his family's Facebook pages, he addressed a range of topics in an online blog he created in 2012. Vess said he had created the blog as part of a U.S. government class project. In the blog titled 'Defining my Stance' he gives his opinion on several issues, often in response to commentary by someone else. Conditt wrote that gay marriage should be illegal, argued in favor of the death penalty and gave his thoughts on 'why we might want to consider' eliminating sex offender registries. Of gay marriage, Conditt wrote: 'Homosexuality is not natural. Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple.' In the 'about me' section of the blog, Conditt wrote that he wasn't 'that politically inclined,' saying he viewed himself as conservative but didn't think he had enough information 'to defend my stance as well as it should be defended.' He said he hoped the class would help him do that. A friend of Conditt described him as smart, opinionated and often intimidating. Jeremiah Jensen, 24, told the Austin American-Statesman that he was close to Conditt in 2012 and 2013. Jensen said they were both home-schooled and he would often go to the Conditt home for lunch after church on Sundays and they attended Bible study and other activities together. 'I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs,' Jensen told the newspaper . He called Conditt a 'deep thinker.' 'When I met Mark, he was really rough around the edges,' Jensen said. 'He was a very assertive person and would ... end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation. A lot of people didn't understand him and where he was coming from. He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it.' Jensen said 'the kind of hate that he succumbed to' was not what Conditt believed in during high school. 'I don't know what happened along the way,' Jensen said. Jensen said Conditt had attended regular church services at Austin Stone Community Church but he didn't know if Conditt 'held onto his faith.' A spokesman for the church said no records of past engagement or past involvement by Conditt were found. Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the suspect matched the FBI's initial profile suspicion that the bomber was likely a white male. But McCaul said a psychological profile probably won't be known until investigators go through Conditt's writings and social media postings. ___ Warren and Dunklin reported from Dallas. Banda reported from Lakewood, Colorado. Associated Press journalists Shawn Chen in Chicago, and Emily Schmall, Jim Vertuno and Will Weissert in Pflugerville also contributed.
  • Most people who own a smartphone take it wherever they go, a fact of modern life that enabled authorities to hunt down the man suspected in five Texas bombings before he blew himself up Wednesday. The search for the suspect, identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, drew upon technology that connects mobile phones to cellular towers and transmits the device's location. It's similar to the same way that an app installed on your phone can know where you are and, in some cases, even learn more about your favorite places to shop, buy coffee or just hang out. But some of the methods law enforcement officials have used to track people's location through their phones have raised legal issues, even when the target is suspected of committing heinous crimes like Conditt is. That's because their location-tracking techniques cast a wide net that also can capture personal information about innocent bystanders. ___ GETTING THE CELL NUMBER Officials in Texas said they were able to obtain Conditt's phone number. This breakthrough came after he was linked through a license plate number to a red truck spotted on surveillance video at a FedEx store where he is suspected to have dropped off a parcel bomb. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the same phone number showed up at the bomb sites. But he did not elaborate on how investigators obtained the information to reach that conclusion. In the most likely scenario, investigators may have asked telecommunication carriers for historical records of all traffic on certain cell towers on specific dates, said Mike Chapple, associate teaching professor of information technology, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame. A warrant usually accompanies requests, known as 'tower dumps,' but not always. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case involving the pulling of 127 days of cellphone information without a warrant to pinpoint the location of a robbery suspect. The question being debated is whether the investigation violated the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches. ___ TRACKING THE PHONE NUMBER Once investigators had Conditt's phone number, they most likely contacted his carrier to track where the device's signal was connecting to towers. But the authorities also may have tried to get an even more precise location by using 'cell-site simulators' that act as fake towers. These simulators, also known as 'StingRays,' broadcast radio signals stronger than legitimate cell towers to force all phones within a targeted area to connect to them. Some simulators can fit in the trunk of a police car that can cruise around a neighborhood in an effort to find a certain phone. But in the process they can also scoop up the locations of other phones, as well as personal data stored on them, said Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. 'All bystanders in a certain radius can have their information hoovered up without their consent with some of these investigative techniques,' Lacambra said. ___ AP writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this story.
  • The suspected Austin bomber is dead after terrorizing Texas' capital city for three weeks. And in the end the manhunt wasn't cracked by hundreds of phoned-in tips, the big pot of reward money or police pleading to the bomber through TV. One of the largest bombing investigations in the U.S. since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 came to an intense close early Wednesday when authorities say they moved in on Mark Anthony Conditt at an interstate hotel. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Conditt blew himself up after running his sport utility vehicle into a ditch. Here is what's known about how authorities finally zeroed in on the suspected bomber after 19 days, two dead victims and more than 1,000 calls of suspicious packages around the city: ___ GETTING THE BOMBER ON CAMERA Conditt had been careful to avoid cameras before entering a FedEx store in southwest Austin this week disguised in a blond wig and gloves, said U.S. House Homeland Security chairman Michael McCaul. The Austin congressman had been briefed by police, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. McCaul said going into the store was Conditt's 'fatal mistake.' He said authorities previously had leads on a red truck and that the surveillance video from the FedEx store — where Conditt is believed to have dropped off an explosive package destined for an Austin address — allowed investigators to identify him and the truck. Said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, 'I'm not sure how much they narrowed him down to an exact person of who he was before he went into that FedEx store.' ___ TRACKING THE CELLPHONE At the FedEx store, McCaul said investigators got from surveillance the truck license plate that linked the vehicle to Conditt, which in turn gave authorities a cellphone number they could track. McCaul said Conditt had powered down his phone for 'quite some time' but that police closed in when he switched it back on. 'He turned it on, it pinged, and then the chased ensued,' McCaul said. Abbott said police were able to closely monitor Conditt and his movements for about 24 hours before his death. The governor said the phone number was used to tie Conditt to bombing sites around Austin. 'The suspect's cellphone number showed up at each of the bombing sites as well as some key locations that helped them connect him to the crime,' Abbott said. ___ BUYING BOMB-MAKING MATERIALS Authorities say they also tracked down Conditt, a 23-year-old unemployed college dropout, through witness accounts and other purchases, including at a Home Depot where McCaul said the suspect bought nails and other bomb-making materials. Abbott said Conditt's purchases at the Home Depot also included five 'CHILDREN AT PLAY' signs, one of which was used to rig a tripwire that was set off by two men Sunday in a southwest Austin neighborhood. One of them was walking and the other was riding a bike. William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of the victims and had nails embedded in his legs from Sunday's explosion. The batteries to power the bomb were purchased through the internet, McCaul said. ___ STILL PUTTING TOGETHER A PROFILE The initial bomber profile sketched out by FBI behavioral scientists was that he was most likely a white male, McCaul said. And while that part was right, the congressman said, a full psychological profile won't come together until investigators have time to comb through Conditt's writings and social media posts. Conditt's motive is not clear. But on Wednesday, police discovered a 25-minute video recording on a cellphone found with Conditt, which Manley said he considers a 'confession' to the bombings. Manley said it described the differences among the bombs in great detail. ___ Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber
  • Farmers, electronics retailers and other U.S. businesses are bracing for a backlash as President Donald Trump targets China for stealing American technology or pressuring U.S. companies to hand it over. The administration is expected Thursday to slap trade sanctions on China, perhaps including restrictions on Chinese investment and tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese products. Dozens of industry groups sent a letter last weekend to Trump warning that 'the imposition of sweeping tariffs would trigger a chain reaction of negative consequences for the U.S. economy, provoking retaliation; stifling U.S. agriculture, goods, and services exports; and raising costs for businesses and consumers.' The announcement will mark the end of a seven-month U.S. investigation into the hardball tactics China has used to challenge U.S. supremacy in technology, including dispatching hackers to steal commercial secrets and demanding that U.S. companies hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The administration argues that years of negotiations with China have failed to produce results. 'It could be a watershed moment,' said Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank. 'The Trump administration's decision to go down this path is illustrative that previous strategies have not borne the hoped-for fruit.' Business groups mostly agree that something needs to be done about China's aggressive push in technology — but they worry that China will retaliate by targeting U.S. exports of aircraft, soybeans and other products and start a tit-for-tat trade war of escalating sanctions between the world's two biggest economies. 'The sanctions are a very big deal,' says Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. 'The Chinese see them as a major threat and do not want a costly trade war.' The move against China comes just as the United States prepares to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum — sanctions that are meant to hit China for flooding the world with cheap steel and aluminum but will likely fall hardest on U.S. allies like South Korea and Brazil because they ship more of the metals to the United States. Trump campaigned on promises to bring down America's massive trade deficit — $566 billion last year — by rewriting trade agreements and cracking down on what he called abusive commercial practices by U.S. trading partners. But he was slow to turn rhetoric to action. In January, he imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. Then he unveiled the steel and aluminum tariffs, saying reliance on imported metals jeopardizes U.S. national security. To target China, Trump has dusted off a Cold War weapon for trade disputes: Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974, which lets the president unilaterally impose tariffs. It was meant for a world in which large swaths of global commerce were not covered by trade agreements. With the arrival in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, which polices global trade, Section 301 fell largely into disuse. At first it looked like Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were going to get along fine. They enjoyed an amiable summit nearly a year ago at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. But America's longstanding complaints about Chinese economic practices continued to simmer, and it became more and more apparent that the U.S. investigation into China technology policies was going to end in trade sanctions. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this week urged Washington to act 'rationally' and promised to open China up to more foreign products and investment. 'China has been trying to cool things down for weeks. They have offered concessions,' Lovely says. 'Nothing seems to cool the fire. I fear they will take a hard line now that their efforts have been rebuffed. ... China cannot appear subservient to the U.S.' ___ On Twitter follow Wiseman at https://twitter.com/paulwisemanAP