Data Destroying Anonymity
New Scientist reports “Anonymous sperm donor traced on internet:”
LATE last year, a 15-year-old boy rubbed a swab along the inside of his cheek, popped it into a vial and sent it off to an online genealogy DNA-testing service. But unlike most people who contact the service, he was not interested in sketching the far reaches of his family tree. His mother had conceived using donor sperm and he wanted to track down his genetic father.
That the boy succeeded using only the DNA test, genealogical records and some internet searches has huge implications for the hundreds of thousands of people who were conceived using donor sperm. With the explosion of information about genetic inheritance, any man who has donated sperm could potentially be found by his biological offspring. Absent and unknown fathers will also become easier to trace.
The boy paid FamilyTreeDNA.com $289 for the service. His genetic father had never supplied his DNA to the site, but all that was needed was for someone in the same paternal line to be on file.
The implications of a family member being tested are fascinating to me. Here’s a fellow who might have made a strong effort to remain private, but was unmasked anyway. What are the implications for privacy? Will those who are concerned about privacy stop donating sperm, because they’re unable to do so privately (anonymously) any longer? If so, does that mean that being concerned about privacy is genetically inferior, because you’re passing on your genes to fewer children? (That of course presumes that privacy concerns are in part genetically determined, which seems unlikely.)
Could the data in the criminal DNA databases be used for this? I recall a discussion of DNA databases for the identification of criminal suspects where the data was nominally not useful for other things, but this story makes me question that.
Daniel Solove has a few more links at “Finding Dad with a DNA Database.”