These days, it seems that everyone is obsessed with tracking everything. People track their steps in a day, their popularity on social media, and their calorie intake. All of this is done with modern technology, something that has become so massive that it has taken on an independent existence, an incredible asset and liability human progress. A recent arrest, that of the Golden State Killer, shows us how widespread and far-reaching this obsessive tracking has become.
Everyone is familiar with Ancestry.com and 23andme. These are sites with services that store, track, and record your DNA, allowing you to know your background and connect with relatives. They often require surrendering a bit of your genetic material, such as saliva, and a bit of hope that you’ll discover some epic and mysterious ancestry. The problem is that, with the capture of the Golden State Killer, many have been made aware that some of these services may be used for purposes beyond researching your ancestors. When commenting on the dangers of such services, New Jersey attorney Joel Winston confirmed that these services actually are legally-binding contracts that, depending on the provider, could allow third-parties access to your genetic material (just as the Golden State Killer’s situation confirmed).
While the dangers of genetic tracking may seem to be relatively mild, and even helpful in certain circumstances, the crux of the issue rests on those who decide what is worth tracking. At first glance, and with the results of recent news outbreaks, genetic tracking could provide a valuable service. We caught the Golden State Killer, shutting the door on a dark chapter in the history of American killers. Many people, myself included, have been subject to fingerprinting for employment purposes. Biometrics are used on a daily basis to unlock computers and aid in building security. Yet, what are we tracking and recording? By storing genetic information, not just fingerprints and retinal records, we endanger not only ourselves, but also every single biological family member. We give every crime scene a hair off the top of our heads and a blood splatter on the wall.
Now, this may not seem so bad at first, especially if it will help stop legitimate criminals. The problem is when we stop to consider who is making the laws that define a criminal. To catch a criminal you need specialized information, and just as Mark Zuckerberg proved, some will pay top dollar for such specialized information. The question is, how much of your own privacy and sovereignty of your own body are you willing to sacrifice by willingly making your own genetic information readily available to someone desiring to pay enough? This sacrifices the very nature of your own privacy, and has the potential to connect you or any biological relatives with crimes you may have not committed.
Unjust criminal accusation, at this point, seems to be largest danger of storing your genetic information in a database. In a world where you can be arrested just for association with a fringe political group, one that the police themselves admit is no threat to public safety, be called racist and banned from an entire country just for slandering someone else’s god, or if someone can be banned from a modern first-world country if their presence is “…not be conducive to the public good” we need to be wary of how easy we are to track. Our privacy is important, as it gives us a right to control our own lives and our own circumstances. The dangers of not towing the party line in a political climate as divided as the current one, are extraordinarily dangerous. Even if we ourselves stay under the radar and lead normal lives and keep ourselves away from conflict, a cousin or sibling or great great great grandchild could potentially be a political pariah. Their own privacy would have been compromised with no consent on their part.
To conclude, we have a potentially massive breach of privacy on our hands with genetic research databases. While the information can be extremely valuable, and if you can find a way to guarantee that the information can’t or won’t be sold, it is likely an incredibly rewarding research project. Yet, the safety and security of not just yourself, but your loved ones, is at stake by willingly sacrificing your own genetic data.