December 31, 2019
The Pentagon is advising members of the military not to use consumer DNA kits—saying the information collected by private companies could pose a security risk, according to a memo co-signed by the Defense Department’s top intelligence official, Yahoo News has exclusively reported.
A growing number of companies—among them, 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage—sell testing kits that provide consumers with a DNA profile, if they send in a cheek swab or saliva sample. They claim that their DNA profile offer insights into the buyer’s ancestry and possible medical risks—and even can even identify previously unknown family members.
The boom in popularity of such kits has raised ethical and legal issues, since some companies have shared this data with law enforcement, or sold it to third parties. Yahoo notes. But the latest to express its concerns publicly is the Defense Department.
“Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,” says 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.
The memo — which says that some DNA kit companies have been targeting military personnel with discounts — appears to have been distributed widely within the Defense Department. The memo was obtained by Yahoo News.
“These [direct-to-consumer] 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,” states the memo.
The memo provides few details on how genetic profiles could endanger security, other than noting that potential “inaccuracies” in health information could pose a risk to military personnel, who are required to report medical issues. Most of the health reports provided by DNA companies typically pertain to medical risks, such as a predisposition to cancer, rather than diagnosing a condition.
Research contact: @YahooNews