New Scientist has an investigation into companies offering surreptitious genetic testing – basically, providing analysis of DNA samples obtained without permission from others. Currently popular uses are searching for evidence of non-paternity or infidelity (by testing underwear for strange DNA), but obviously the potential exists to also look for markers of potential disease risk, a la Gattaca – an attractive prospect for employers, insurers, or those hunting for the flaw-free spouse.
Human nature being what it is, there’s little doubt that a considerable market for non-consensual genetic testing will exist for as long as the practice isn’t strictly illegal. Remarkably, New Scientist notes that in the US “there is no federal law clarifying people’s right to privacy with regard to abandoned DNA”, and that relevant state laws are not being used to prosecute non-consensual testing companies.
It may take a highly public case to correct that – as it did in the UK, where an alleged 2002 plot to steal hair from a royal family member to test for non-paternity led eventually to a ban on non-consensual genetic testing.
In the meantime, caveat emptor – the article notes poor regulatory control in the US over the accuracy of some of the tests being offered. Given the near-magical power afforded to DNA testing in the public mind, and the potentially explosive consequences of an erroneous non-paternity call, this seems like a fairly dangerous state of affairs.