A leaked Department of Defense memo, which has since been confirmed as authentic by the Pentagon, warns the military about the potential risks of direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits. These services have become very popular among the public, offering insight into one’s genes related to ancestry and health, among other things. These same tests could be a major risk for some people, however, putting their livelihoods (and lives) at stake.
On Monday, Yahoo News leaked a Pentagon memo that had been issued to miliary members. According to the advisory, which was signed by a top DOD ‘intelligence official,’ military members who take a personal direct-to-consumer DNA test face ‘personal and operational risks’ in doing so. The memo was dated December 20, 2019, according to the leak.
The memo reportedly reads, in part:
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.
It also mentions the potential for these tests to be inaccurate. Though the leaked memo doesn’t state the ways in which these tests may be a security risk, the report cites sources who claim the government is worried about the way this data could be used to compromise its national security assets located overseas.
The DNA data handed over to these private companies may be compromised by hackers, for example, potentially putting the info in the hands of foreign governments. These governments may then use the data to figure out whether any given person is a spy or to target certain people.
The New York Times points out another potential issue related to this matter: miliary members, unlike civilians, do not have legal protection when it comes to employment and genetic data. It may be possible that by voluntarily undergoing a DNA test, a military member may put their career in jeopardy based on which genes they have. The Pentagon declined to provide specific information about its concerns, however.