Your DNA is already in a database

Your DNA is already in a database

Your genetic code is probably already in a database, without you ever giving a sample or permission. This video is sponsored by Brilliant. The first 200 people to sign up via https://brilliant.org/veritasium get 20% off a yearly subscription.

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A huge thanks to Paul Holes, Billy Jensen, Brett Williams, Dr Connie Bormans and Dr Doc Edge for being part of this video. Thanks to Verogen and Family Tree DNA for giving me access to film.

Thanks to Sonya Pemberton, Joe Hanson, Raquel Nuno, CGP Grey, and numerous Patreon supporters for helpful feedback on an earlier version of this video.

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References:
Phillips, C. (2018). The Golden State Killer investigation and the nascent field of forensic genealogy. Forensic Science International: Genetics, 36, 186-188. — https://ve42.co/Phillips2018

Guerrini, C. J., Robinson, J. O., Petersen, D., & McGuire, A. L. (2018). Should police have access to genetic genealogy databases? Capturing the Golden State Killer and other criminals using a controversial new forensic technique. PLoS biology, 16(10), e2006906. — https://ve42.co/Guerrini

Ram, N., Guerrini, C. J., & McGuire, A. L. (2018). Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation. Science, 360(6393), 1078-1079. — https://ve42.co/Ram2019

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Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Andrew, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, MJP, Gnare, Nick DiCandilo, Dave Kircher, Edward Larsen, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Big Badaboom, Ludovic Robillard, Jim buckmaster, fanime96, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Alfred Wallace, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

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Written by Derek Muller
Animation by Iván Tello and Another Angle 3D Visuals (www.anotherangle.ee)
SFX by Shaun Clifford
Filmed by Derek Muller, Raquel Nuno, Shirley Dutoit, and Emily Zhang
Edited by Derek Muller
Produced by Derek Muller and Casey Rentz
Additional video supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound https://epidemicsound.com
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35 Responses

  1. It's Okay To Be Smart says:

    CSI: GATTACA

    • Lars S says:

      @Christopher Stone Not sure how you can say its not based on genetics when the sequence is a representation of a genetic sequence for the name of the movie and it presumed would be more accurately stated presumed genetic disposition. Again genetic. However in the movie the’presumtion’ was backed up by their ‘scientific studies’. The quotation marks are for sarcasm as most scientific study is agenda based and funded by those with specific agendas.

  2. Pedro Scoponi says:

    The issue with me isn’t so much whether my privacy outweighs the need to catch violent criminals, it’s whether I can trust institutions to not abuse of the privacy we’ve given up. And you really, really can’t – and as the video demonstrates, even if you distrust them to the point of not being willing to share information yourself, your privacy might still be intruded upon anyway. This is a really complex, kinda haunting thing to think about.

    • QSAnimazione says:

      @Pica Pica dude each person is less than 800 bits it’s not a lot of data. Like it said in the video, it looks at 20 loci for the number of repeats, not at the whole genome.

    • Alexander Sakhnenko says:

      @Crusader1815 Australia? Wasn’t it some prison-planet settled by the brits?

    • Marvson Allan says:

      We need a DNA blockchain. Every DNA result is cryptographed and it’s impossible to compare it fully, however, you can make so that you will receive a match if someone attempts to compare their DNA with yours and you have to accept it so that you send the result of the comparison back. Each time someone asks for compare, that would have an unique id, the block id. You can then expect someone to describe with their ID what they want to compare to. But the thing is, you can setup the math so that the Cypher allows comparison only in one direction. You can compare a public sample with your private key, but can’t send the result to any other person because only the original person can decode the comparison result. Even you can’t know the result.

    • Murilo Spineli says:

      if you are THIS worried about you privacy, to the point of not willing to catch rapists and murders, you might as well be a criminal.

    • James V says:

      Instead of relying on the police to stop violent criminals (which they rarely do and by definition they can’t prevent violent crime they investigate it after the fact) people should be more self defense oriented. Security systems, dogs , guns etc.

  3. MattsAwesomeStuff says:

    Most people don’t know this, but once upon a time (maybe still?), I think I read about it 15 years ago, several major printer brands would print out, on each printed page, a tiny, nearly-invisible grid of nearly-white dots in indistinguishable pale yellow ink. Single pixels. *The positions of these dots identified via a simple code the specific serial number of the printer that printed them.* Every page you printed had these on them, and you couldn’t tell they were there with a naked eye, so, of course none of us ever noticed them. So, what’s the problem with that? Well, suppose you’re a murder, and you printed a page and left it at the scene. Law enforcement could eventually identify that your printed printed that page. Or your office printer, or whatever they seized with a warrant or perhaps whatever they could find in a warranty database. So far so good. *But what about someone who printed pamphlets exposing for example government corruption?* Someone trying to rally against a politician’s opponent, or even just someone pushing for the power of police unions to be reduced? Now it’s possible, with abuse, to to prevent corruption from being safe to expose. Genetic databases are the same. It’s great to catch killers, rapists, and child abductors. But there is a massive potential to suppress dissent, and to make dissent too risky to consider.

    • 888SpinR says:

      It’s ultimately a potential risk to potential benefit calculation. Assuming bad actors mean you can turn pretty much anything into a tool for corruption. For me, the benefit outweighs the risk.

    • Yeah OK says:

      @Oxy Bright Dark I work tech support and can answer that a bit. Some printers mix a bit of colour into black, and that’s why you can’t print. Others are just money-grubbing and don’t use colour, but require you to have colour ink in order to work. For some, empty ink can lead to print head jams, and it says empty before it’s actually empty so it can periodically squirt a bit of ink through the heads and into a waste compartment (which needs to be emptied or else the printer “dies” when it’s full). No simple answer, but most likely it’s just the money-grubbing as that’s the most common reason.

    • Yeah OK says:

      @Daryl Jackson III By virtue of you saying comrades and not friends, it’s obvious you’ve read 1984. I can’t tell if you’re being snide or not, but you should be aware of what kind of future we’re heading to

    • itsdeco says:

      grow up

    • Wayne Slater says:

      Nearly everyone already carries an advanced GPS tracker, detailing how much time they spent at specific geographic coordinates, and a database recorder that can access the persons assets, purchases, searches and private conversations, etc You can delete them, but they’re not really gone. People have already given up all their privacy, it’s too late. I doubt the masses will never give up social media and convenience for privacy. Meanwhile, we shed DNA like salt shakers with each slight movement. Best get your dissent expressed while maybe you can.

  4. An M says:

    I liked the scene when she said she uses duckduckgo for privacy, so they don’t spy on her… the irony

    • An M says:

      @Mahdi Taherifard He means that they publish a their source code publicly like linux, gnu etc. But they do that in order to deceive ppl. Let’s see why this is utterly bs, when you got the source code of something you can test, you can see how it works, you can literally go into their Github repo and commit your own code, implement features and fix bugs. Moreover, duckduckgo, that was the point here is not a browser, it’s a search engine, you don’t download anything, you don’t install anything, but even if it was you can go to their repo download the code review it and compile it. For example let’s say you download a linux distro that is open source, you can test, compile it by yourself change filesystem, check it for bugs, vulnerabilities, even mess with the kernel. Things that you will never do with something like windows or mac os. Finally, there are plenty of tools that anyone with some networking knowledge can check if there are cookies, fingerprinting etc.

    • Mahdi Taherifard says:

      @An M oh you’re right, I don’t know why I thought it was a browser… my memory deteriorates every day 🤦‍♂️

  5. Gary Whitt says:

    If Edward Snowden taught us anything, we can be assured that those “secured” databases of DNA are open to government scrutiny.

    • Thulyblu says:

      remember “love int”? the casual term for secret agents illegally searching the databases for info on their cheating partners, etc… Humans aren’t perfect and there will be some abuse. Guaranteed.

  6. John Galt says:

    My biggest problem with this is the enormous amount of DNA tracking and testing to find a criminal is OK, but death row inmates who get exonerated have to petition the court for years for a DNA test on existing samples to prove their innocence.

  7. Osac says:

    Despite GEDmatch’s opt-in policy, in fall 2019, it was served with a warrant by law-enforcement in Florida, demanding access to all of its DNA profiles, including those of the vast majority of users who had not opted in to allow law enforcement access (at that time, approximately 185,000 of 1.3 million users had opted in).[94] GEDmatch complied with this warrant.

    From Wikipedia

    • Midnattsol says:

      Our DNA should not be our own property and we should not be allowed to share it.
      This touches the core of liberalism: Your freedom ends, where the freedom of the other begins.

    • Jimmy M says:

      @WnS Jimbo That’s good? I think not. I’ll never spend another dollar in Florida. That’s how I feel about it. I don’t want to live in a surveillance state.
      And no, it’s not because I’m a criminal. I’m actually thinking about taking one of these tests. Especially since my father’s family’s last name is not legit, and was taken upon entering this country. I know so little about my father’s lineage (I know my mother’s family comes from France/Germany). Obviously I won’t be uploading to any database. My main reluctance at this point is one of these companies may get hacked and all that information is out there.

  8. Pitchwind says:

    Interesting topic, but we’re missing a large part of the conversation — once the data is out there, there is no more control over how it gets used. While the interviewed companies currently say “we only expose this data to LEOs for certain types of cases where the need is great enough” there is absolutely nothing stoping a merger, or takeover, or just a policy change, that says “we’re going to give this data to election campaigns, insurance providers, employers, and anyone else with plan that makes users throw up in their mouth upon hearing it, as long as they pay us enough.”

    This is a very very similar problem with the discourse around government backdoors into encryption. They say they’ll use it for good right now. Even if I trust them at their word right now, there is no guarantee of any kind that this will be true even one election cycle down the road. Or that bad actors won’t find a way into the system.

    What happens when insurance companies look at these (even the free and open sources mentioned in this video!) and start upping premiums for people with a predisposition to hereditary diseases? Or employers get into the system to run checks on applicants? Or political parties start doing unthinkable things?

    Ultimately this is startlingly one-sided and misses so many arguments from the data protection and privacy standpoint, glossing over them with an “It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s helpful so you should still do it”. I know you’re more in the edutainment space than the deep-dive think piece space, but frankly, it is dangerous not to talk about. It is leaving people not only uninformed, but worse, incompletely informed.

    I’m pretty disappointed because of how insidiously damaging to the discourse this can be. Yes, it is nuanced, and doesn’t make for the best medium-form youtube content. But normalizing the acceptance of additional data gathering and allowing external access to these databases is hugely problematic, without taking equal effort to go into depth into the pitfalls therein.

    • Infinite Monkey says:

      @James V They didn’t have the technology when he was killing and raping in the 70s and 80s so of course he is much older now.

    • Ninjason9 - says:

      Sound like an opt outer to me

    • Brad Layne says:

      Technically untrue, but with the way our government works today it certainly feels correct to say that. Once the data is out there, you need to have laws regulating how it can be used. If you’re worried about the likelihood that the laws will change or new ones will be created to allow insurance companies to abuse the data, for example, like I am because money in our political system has a way of corrupting good things, then it’s going to require a constitutional amendment to keep this static. We need to have an amendment that sets in stone our right to have any genetic data stored in these databased used only in very specific scenarios that few of us would disagree with, like the cases outlined in this video. If it’s just a law or court case precedent, we’re going to get some shitty situation like Net Neutrality or Roe v Wade eventually, where the common good is eventually eschewed in favor of limiting our rights further.

    • Wouter M says:

      @Sheldon Hawke Offcourse you want to pay your fair share of insurance payments, that’s the whole point of insurance anyway. To spread the risk. Here in the Netherlands you pay more if you get sick and that to me is already a big no no. Encouraging people to prevent costs/misery is very different though.
      Anyway, one way or the other your DNA will be up for grabs soon enough. Better not have any illusions about privacy. Proper laws about what to do with this information are paramount though.
      And indeed, well put OP

    • John Johnson says:

      @Beam3178 Not just insurance premiums. The bigger question is genetic discrimination in general: denial of certain medical treatments, refusal to hire, etc. There should be an automatic prohibition against this (GINA in the US was another step beyond sex, race, and some disabilities), but we have a ways to go.

  9. SomeDude says:

    I feel like this subject is complicated, because supporting bringing criminals to justice is an undeniably good thing, but I do not trust the system to be used for that. The criminal justice system in this country is frankly horrifying in many aspects, and I do not believe it is a matter of if it is abused, but rather a question of how soon it will be abused. At which point, we have to wonder how do we create a system which can curb the abuses enough to keep the moral scales balanced at the very least. It might be a moot point, there may be no political will to curb abuses, at which point we just have to make our peace with it. At this point, the amount of good done with it is far outweighed by the bad, but I predict that will rapidly balance back out. And when it does, we will need to have a discussion on how to control a technology which is already out of control.

  10. Missing Persons Mysteries says:

    Absolutely fascinating!

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