Several private companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry sell kits that provide consumers information on their ancestry, potential medical risks and even unknown family members after they send in a cheek swab or saliva sample. With the rise in popularity of such kits, the Pentagon along with the US Defense Department are concerned that the companies could potentially share collected data with law enforcement or other third parties.
“Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,” the December 20 memo signed by Joseph D. Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reads.
The memo also states that the companies have been specifically targeting military personnel to buy the DNA kits by offering discounts, also adding that the kits have been distributed extensively throughout the Defense Department.
“These genetic tests are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” the memo, which was exclusively obtained by Yahoo News, reads. The memo also states that there is an “increased concern in the scientific community” that such genetic could be used for “questionable purposes” such as “mass surveillance and the ability to track individuals without their authorization or awareness.”
According to Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, there are concerns about commercial genetic databases being used by foreign governments to identify potential spies.
“It all boils down to the same basic idea,” Murphy told Yahoo News. “In a world in which a few stray cells can be used to identify a person, there is no such thing as a covert action, and no such thing as anonymity.”
“It’s not hard to imagine a world where people are blithely sharing information online without realizing their third cousin is a Navy SEAL, or an operative of the CIA,” Murphy added.
However, in a statement obtained to ABC News, both 23andMe and Ancestry disputed claims that their kits pose security risks.
“All of our customers should be assured we take the utmost efforts to protect their privacy, and that the results we provide are highly accurate," a 23 and Me spokesperson told ABC News.
"Customers are in control of how their data is shared, and how their data is stored," the spokesperson added. "They can choose to have their sample stored at our lab, or have it destroyed. They can also download their information and close their account at any time."
Ancestry also pushed back against claims that its data could be shared with other parties.
"Protecting our customers’ privacy and being good stewards of their data is Ancestry’s highest priority," Gina Spatafore, an Ancestry spokesperson, told ABC News.
"Ancestry does not share customer DNA data with insurers, employers, or third-party marketers. Ancestry will also not share customer personal information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant,” she added.
The two companies did not immediately respond to Sputnik’s request for comment.