Is Genome Sleuthing Becoming the Unregulated “Wild West”?

It happens almost every week: Police reveal that DNA technology has helped them crack a decades-old case or identify an infamous serial killer like Jack the Ripper. Investigators have been using criminal DNA databases for decades, but commercial genealogy sites like and 23andMe have revolutionized the industry. Now, people can make their own genetic material public, and when law enforcement uses that information to solve crimes it can raise serious questions about privacy. While safeguards exist to make sure the information uncovered from criminal databases isn’t misused or disclosed improperly by police, none of those regulations exist for commercial databases. That means that as the technology develops, the number of people who have their DNA collected by law enforcement will increase. That, say opponents, could result in cheek swabs becoming part of simple traffic stops. Without proper regulations in place, consumers need to be vigilant when they use sites like and 23andMe. In many of these services, a consumer is only one checkbox away from sharing sensitive information they may rather keep private. Consumer Reports experts caution against opting into research, which in some cases means sharing everything about you and your relatives, undermining their privacy as well.