Houston based DNA testing company defends decision to allow police to access results

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For one Houston man, it wasn't the results from his DNA test that surprised him. It was the letter he received months later.

This week, FamilyTreeDNA sent customers a letter.

"I was absolutely horrified about the whole thing," the customer recalled.
He asked us not to reveal his identity but shared the letter he received from FamilyTreeDNA. In it, he learned the Houston based company is allowing law enforcement to access certain information.

The company made the change in May, but the letter says the company's fine print wasn't updated until December. FamilyTreeDNA apologized and says it's going to create a panel to make improvements.

"I think it's too late because there was no transparency from the beginning, and that just pretty much lets you know what business ethics are of the company so I would never use them again," the customer said.

The company sent Eyewitness News the following statement:

"FamilyTreeDNA's autosomal database is accessible to users in one of two ways. They can purchase a Family Finder test, or if they have an acceptable file, they can upload their autosomal DNA data for free. A user and their match must both have matching turned to see each other's profile in their matches list. The information shared between matches is limited and dependent on the user's sharing preferences and the information they provide in their account settings. In no circumstance is a user's raw data accessible to other users, including law enforcement.

With FamilyTreeDNA's database, as with other databases similar to ours, law enforcement is capable of uploading genetic files and searching for DNA "relatives," to assist them in their efforts to identify the remains of deceased individuals and suspected killers and perpetrators of sexual assault."

It's a situation the Houston customer couldn't understand. He thought once his results came back, that was the end.

"The assumption was that once they've extracted the DNA that they get rid of that," he said.

FamilyTreeDNA does not. In order to do so, customers have to call and request this.

This isn't unique to FamilyTreeDNA, as other DNA test companies require the same procedure.

Which is why customers say before you swab, make sure you do your homework.

"Read the fine print, and contact the company and ask them about what their bylaws are and the way they go about doing their business," the customer said.

FamilyTreeDNA said it's unique because it conducts its tests with a lab onsite, and never sells the results with outside companies. If customers weren't satisfied with the letter, the company is encouraging them to reach out for more information.

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