In a recent internal memo, dated December 20th, the Department of Defense advised its personnel and Service members to refrain from purchasing or using commercial genetic ancestry kits. In response to certain genetic testing companies targeting military personnel by advertising military discounts, the Pentagon disbursed this memo ahead of the Christmas holiday, possibly after taking into account that the kits have been a popular gift over the years.
The Pentagon outlined its concerns about the genetic kits: they maintained that the use of these kits would cause sensitive genetic information to outside parties to be exposed, posing “personal and operational risks”. They warned that many of the kits have not been reviewed by the FDA, causing the information within the kits to contain varying levels of validity. These inaccuracies, the Pentagon cautioned, “pose more risk to DoD military personnel than the public” due to the possibility of medical information being disclosed that could affect medical readiness, crucial for rapid deployment. The memo concludes with one more concern, and arguably the most sinister: that the information provided and obtained by these genetic testing companies may be “exploited for questionable purposes, including mass surveillance and the ability to track individuals without their authorization or awareness.”
This last concern touches on a larger issue within the intelligence community, the control and use of biometrics data. DNA, fingerprints and facial recognition can all be used to expose U.S. national security personnel to identification by other countries, crippling covert action missions abroad. A commercial genetic database could undeniably be used by a hostile government to expose undercover workers.
Perhaps this warning from the Pentagon should also serve as a word to the wise for all of us. “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” a professor at New York University’s School of Law commented. Regardless of whether you have ties to intelligence community, if you received a genetic testing kit from a loved one over the holidays, their intention was more than likely pure, however the same cannot be said for the companies that profit off of disclosed information; the kit may be a present that you’re better off returning.