23andme & Ancestry.com aggregated the world's DNA; the police obliged them by asking for it

When 23andme and Ancestry.com began their projects of collecting and retaining the world's DNA, many commentators warned that this would be an irresistible target for authoritarians and criminals, and that it was only a matter of time until cops started showing up at their doors, asking for their customers' most compromising data.

In the same way that collecting and retaining credit-card numbers paints a big bullseye on your side when it comes to thieves, retaining identity data means that you will inevitably be bombarded with police requests from all corners. If you're a company with ambitions to sell into markets all over the world, which means opening sales offices in every jurisdiction, that means that you have to contend with the legal systems of all of those companies.

This is the story of the next decade: companies that started out amassing huge databases of compromising information will be targeted: first by cops and spies (hi there, OPM!), then by civil litigants (something like 80% of all divorce cases now involve a subpoena to Facebook), then by criminals (hello, Ashley Madison!).

Sitting on all that personal information is like sitting on a heap of nuclear waste: unless you can keep it perfectly, totally safe for several human lifetimes, you are probably going to end up causing untold harm.

23andMe's first privacy officer Kate Black, who joined the company in February, says 23andMe plans to launch a transparency report, like those published by Google, Facebook and Twitter, within the next month or so. The report, she says, will reveal how many government requests for information the company has received, and presumably, how many it complies with.

"In the event we are required by law to make a disclosure, we will notify the affected customer through the contact information provided to us, unless doing so would violate the law or a court order," said Black by email.

Ancestry.com would not say specifically how many requests it's gotten from law enforcement. It wanted to clarify that in the Usry case, the particular database searched was a publicly available one that Ancestry has since taken offline with a message about the site being "used for purposes other than that which it was intended." Police came to Ancestry.com with a warrant to get the name that matched the DNA.

"On occasion when required by law to do so, and in this instance we were, we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested but we don't comment on the specifics of cases," said a spokesperson.

Cops are asking Ancestry.com and 23andMe for their customers' DNA
[Kashmir Hill/Fusion]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele)