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IMF commitment to client privacy in response to changes in the FTDNA database submission process

Updated: Jan 25


Intermountain Forensics announcement graphic


On January 23, 2024, a press release by Othram, Inc., announced an exclusive partnership with GeneByGene, LTD for forensic genetic genealogy search and analysis utilizing the FamilyTreeDNA database, a substantial resource for forensic investigative genetic genealogy (FIGG) investigators. Intermountain Forensics (IMF) has subsequently been informed that upload of FIGG data will be “triaged” and submitted to the database exclusively by Othram. We expect further clarification is forthcoming and we have requested more information regarding this transaction and subsequent policies and procedures associated with it.  

 

As an ethically responsible FIGG service provider, Intermountain Forensics practices strict confidentiality, transparency, and adherence to legal requirements designed to ensure proper use and privacy of our clients’ data.  Consequently, Intermountain Forensics has decided to refrain from seeking further uploads to the FamilyTreeDNA database until additional information is provided and we, as well as our clients, have been assured of privacy, pricing, database visibility and upload file requirements of this newly announced process. 

 

This is not meant to express concern about Othram in particular; it is obviously well known in the industry.  We have the same obligations regarding any for-profit intermediary to which we are sending sensitive client data. The requested information includes:

  1. What criteria are in place, if any, as to whether Othram can decline to upload a submitted profile? 

    1. Do these restrictions apply to all submitters, including direct law enforcement uploads?

    2. If Othram declines to upload a submitted profile, will it provide documentation (including an explanation) to the submitter?

  2. What limitations are in place, if any, limiting Othram’s use of submitted data?

    1. Can Othram extract or retain any of the submitted data? 

    2. Can Othram use our clients’ data in any way beyond the technical uploading process?

    3. What notice, if any, is being provided to Gene by Gene customers who previously uploaded to FTDNA?

  3. What confidentiality and privacy obligations are in place on the part of Othram?

    1. What information can Othram disclose (and to whom) regarding profiles received for uploading purposes?

  4. Are there any restrictions on Othram’s ability to access DNA relative leads generated by a submitted profile or contacting submitters’ clients?

  5. Are there any restrictions on Othram transferring any portion of our clients’ data to its own private database?

  6. What process will be utilized by Othram to upload our clients’ data? 

    1. Will it be the same process currently utilized by others to upload?

    2. Will upload fees be increased and remain consistent with GeneByGene policy?


Intermountain Forensics has an obligation to our clients and to the general public to ensure confidentiality, privacy and data integrity of the files entrusted to us as an organization. We are confident that details on these and other issues will be forthcoming and are very hopeful that through transparency and strong policies and procedures, our concerns will be alleviated and enable lifting of our moratorium of our submission of our clients’ data to Othram for uploading to FamilyTreeDNA.


Rest assured, the majority of our successful investigations rely solely on the GEDMatch database, thus we are optimistic that the temporary restriction won't affect our ongoing laboratory investigations.

 

We feel very strongly that Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy requires a massive amount of public trust to secure and grow these integral databases.  It is a paradigm-shifting technology for identifying unknown human remains and criminal investigation.  It is thus absolutely essential that everyone within the community do everything within our power to ensure that those who give us so much personal trust be absolutely assured that we are doing everything we are able to maintain it, enhance it and ensure that it is being utilized responsibly.

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3 Comments


Excellent statement, IMF! I personally share your concerns, as should any of us in the field of IGG who are entrusted with cases and sensitive information. I am also concerned that these questions even need to be asked. Where is a statement from Gene by Gene explaining the nature of this partnership? Why haven't their customers been notified, and informed that despite Gene by Gene's promise to the contrary, their data was, in fact, just sold??

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I’m glad to see this well thought out response posted so quickly. Thanks, IMF for leading the conversation.

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This is well written, and articulates community-wide questions and concerns. I am looking forward to hearing the answers.

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