A new twist on “Parental consent”

January 31, 2020  |  Bob Covello

An independent guest blogger wrote this blog.

I was at breakfast the other day with some family friends, and the topic of genealogy came up.  Over the past few years, various sites have sprouted up that offer to trace your origins all the way back in time; in some cases, all the way back to the eras of early human development.  One of my favorite authors has actually written a book about the results of his test.

The idea behind the test is simple.  You order a “kit” online, and when the kit arrives, all you have to do is dribble into a test tube, seal it up with your information, and send it on its way and await the results.

While I was at breakfast with my friends, they were discussing how they were going to send away for their kit to trace their origins.  To their knowledge, they were 100% certain of their purely Greek heritage, with no deviations from the bloodlines.  It would be fascinating to see if they are distant relatives of some of the great thinkers in human history. This is remarkable, as I cannot boast of such “purity” due to my mutt-like family history. 

All was not well with their plan, however.  Their son objected to the idea of them participating in what he considered pure folly.  He was not so concerned about his past; he was more concerned with his future.  He has serious apprehension about the privacy surrounding these tests, as well as the future implications for his life.

I thought about his concern, and he has a valid point. A review of the privacy policy of one of the most popular genealogy sites does nothing to relieve this fear.  While they clearly state that they will never share information with an insurance company or medical office, they are, however, legally required to share information if requested by a legitimate law enforcement organization.  There is also a warning that “in the event of a breach”, the information may become public knowledge.

Perhaps my young friend has a point?  We have seen in the past how data can escape even the most secure organizations.  It is one thing to lose control of our financial information, such as our social security numbers.  However, what is the remedy if our genetic information becomes public?  In this age where we are creating new identification and authentication methods, have we contemplated the future risks of such an event?

The interesting twist here is that we always caution our children to seek parental consent for something as simple as a school trip, or a movie with questionable content.  We have childproof caps on all medications, and we worry about our children’s use of social media. 

What should we call this new world, where we should seek the consent of our offspring before we responsible adults do something that may affect them in an unknown future?  There isn’t even a word in the lexicon for this new phenomenon.  Since they are the fruit of our loins, perhaps we can call it “Loinal consent”?  Some things may be best if they remain non-public.

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Tags: privacy, pii

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