Pentagon memo urges military members not to use DNA ancestry kits

DNA kits have become a popular gift in recent years. Figuring out where you land on the family tree can be fun and enlightening, but the Pentagon has issued an advisory for members of the military not to use these consumer DNA kits for safety reasons, according to a memo obtained by Yahoo News.

“Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,” read the Dec. 20 memo, which was signed by Joseph D. Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for manpower.

Consumer DNA kits — like those sold by companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry — can provide people with information about their ancestry and medical risks, and sometimes they even reveal unknown family members.

Some of the companies that provide these tests and carry out the DNA analyses have started sharing the information they glean with law enforcement agencies, and some of them have sold off the data to third parties.

“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,” the memo states, although it does not provide any details on what these potential security risks are, apart from mentioning that there are potential “inaccuracies” in the health information presented by the companies who analyze these tests.

It’s possible that the warning could be aimed at protecting intelligence officials or those who work under aliases.

“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,” Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, told the Washington Examiner.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.