Five years ago, companies like and 23andMe provided the option of genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests for customers who submitted DNA samples. At the time, privacy advocates warned of the potential risks of letting businesses collect genetic databases.

Privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber summed it up in 2010 when he said that genetic material “has serious information about you and your family.” This information, if used beyond the purposes of genealogy tracing, has big implications in law enforcement and government tracking. Wired magazine cautioned, “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect.”

Currently, the FBI keeps a national genetic database of the DNA of convicts and arrestees. Both companies’ privacy policies state that upon court order, DNA information will be given to law enforcement. Yet, as Wired implicated, people have been wrongly accused of crimes for DNA near-matches in the past.

23andMe recently launched a transparency report, similar to other major tech companies that receive government requests for consumer information, within the next month.

“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 the company’s first privacy officer Kate Black. will not state explicitly how many government data requests the company has recieved.

“On occasion when required by law to do so… we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested,” said a spokesperson.

Article via Fusion, October 16, 2015

Photo: DNA isolation 5 via Patrick Alexander [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

This past Thursday, the Social Security Administration announced that citizens would be able to apply for replacement Social Security card documents online. Although the program only applies to basic card replacements, it will expedite the process for many Americans who had to physically wait in line at a government building in order to fill out the paperwork for renewal. The program will first be introduced to Wisconsin and Washington state before extending to the rest of the nation.

Nancy Berryhill, the deputy commissioner for operations at the Social Security Administration, said, “It’s not only convenient for the public, but also for our field employees. It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

The development of the program was lengthy due to the issues of authenticating and securing individuals’ identities. Those who apply for replacement cards online will have to sign up for a “my Social Security” account and answer personal questions from their credit history, provided by the Equifax credit-card rating bureau. The account will also ask for a driver’s license or state ID card numbers, to be compared to the records of individual states. Lastly, a fraud protection review will scan the submitted information for a authenticity.

Rob Klopp, the deputy commissioner of systems and the agency’s chief information officer, said that the agency is still researching methods to recognize fraud. “We’re going to learn how others try to game us,” he said.

Article via The Washington Post, November 19, 2015

Photo: The Bank of Queue via tubb [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]