Thursday, August 6, 2020

Story fodder for us writers, nightmare fuel for the rest of you

A couple years ago at Writers' Police Academy, we were told that law enforcement is already availing themselves to DNA in the possession of companies like and 23andMe. After all, who doesn't want to help catch a bad guy and put them away? Plus, you really don't have a choice when presented with a warrant, which I would guess is all or most of the time.

Now comes this news: 75% of has been sold to Blackstone Group, an asset management company. This includes access to Ancestry's DNA database, which probably isn't what customers had in mind when they submitted their genetic profile to the company. There's also this (from the linked article):

It ( has also branched out to genomics, this month launching a screening service designed to test individuals' risk of developing inheritable health conditions such as heart disease, breast cancer and colon cancer, according to the Financial Times.

Again, I'm guessing that the people who signed up for this service did so thinking that their personal information wouldn't be shareable, much less up for grabs to the highest bidder. It's probably in the fine print, but still...

I'm wondering who will be the first to publish a novel or sell a script based on this news. I don't care how many precautions are taken, there's always a way around them if you're diabolical enough. So much potential for blackmail! So much potential for framing someone dumb enough to have thought their genetic information would be safe and private! It's kind of amazing to think that this business transaction may have just opened up a whole new sub-genre for mysteries and thrillers.

Also, imagine you're a defense lawyer whose client has used these services. Would it really be all that hard to convince a jury that the accused's DNA could have been planted, given that it can be bought and sold? Remember that they don't have persuade all twelve jurors - just one with reasonable doubt hangs the whole jury. You know it's just a matter of time before some slimeball lawyer who knows damn well his client is guilty gives it a shot. How would you write that story?

Plus, on top of the DNA aspect, you now have the genomics thing. Seriously, the idea that someone (say, someone angling to be potential heir or just someone with a big fat grudge who wants to make the victim's life miserable) could fake a notification from the company and lead someone to believe that they're dying (or at least in danger of dying) from a dreaded disease they already assume themselves to be susceptible to? People can get really paranoid about their mortality and it's just a short step from there to prey on that abject fear. As an idea, especially a story idea, it's really not that far-fetched.

I just decided to print out this post and add it to my writing notebook, because the story possibilities, they just boggle the mind. They really do.

Updated 9/15/20: Looks like I'm a little late to the party - Michael Connelly's recent best-seller Fair Warning covered that exactly and is now headed for the big screen. From Deadline:

The murder mystery is set around the rapidly evolving 'wild west' world of DNA sequence data harvesting; specifically in regard to such data being sold for profit within an industry that has no oversight. It delves into the murky moral questions raised by companies promising to show customers their ancestries, while quietly attaining the right to do whatever they desire with the acquired DNA data-and the potentially deadly ramifications of such personal information falling into the wrong hands. 

Gotta be quick, kids.

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