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United States Privacy Digest | Notes from the IAPP Publications Editor, Feb. 8, 2019 Related reading: Tech talk: Deidentification versus anonymization

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Greetings from Portsmouth, New Hampshire!

Many of us here at IAPP headquarters came to work Monday morning with an extra spring in our step. True, I went to bed a little later than normal Sunday night, but watching yet another Patriots Super Bowl victory doesn't get old, even though the team's quarterback and coach aren't getting any younger. After nearly two decades of championship drought, the last 18 years have been a real oasis. For those of us old enough to remember life before 2001, I can assure you, we don't take these wins for granted. 

But enough about sports.

Many of us were struck here this week by an in-depth report from The Wall Street Journal on at-home DNA kits and the effect they're having on families. In one such story, the oldest of two daughters took the at-home test a few years back. The parents of both sisters had passed away by the time of the test, and what the two daughters found changed their lives forever. For one, an unfamiliar man's name appeared as a close genetic match. After some further research, they found the man was the son of their father — a child he had whom they'd never known about— but one of the sisters had no genetic match with this long-lost brother. That's because the mother had an extramarital affair and, as a result, had one of the sisters out of wedlock. For their entire lives — one is 65, the other 52— they thought they were sisters. And with this newfound knowledge and all its heartbreak, their parents weren't around to provide an explanation. 

"The revelations ricocheted through the family. They created new bonds with people who were once strangers. They caused tension with family they had known all their lives. And they sparked a fight between the sisters about the bonds of loyalty—and how much their parents should have told them," the WSJ report stated. 

At-home DNA kits are growing in popularity, and they're cheap. They can be incredibly useful, but they also carry consequences like the one above. The tests not only involve the privacy of just the person taking the test or even known family members but unwitting strangers as well, for better or worse. There's even a profession of genetic counselors who help consult individuals with DNA-related questions. 

With these at-home tests, family secrets can now be unearthed like never before. It's another example of the power of modern technology and how it affects truth and human relationships. 

Something similar happened to author Dani Shapiro when she took a DNA test in 2016. As a result, she found out that her father was not her biological father, and as her new book "Inheritance: A Memoir of Geneology, Paternity, and Love" notes, "She woke up one morning and her entire history — the life she had lived — crumbled before her." At this year's Global Privacy Summit, Dani Shapiro will keynote and discuss her experience and how technology like this is racing ahead of medical ethics and even family relationships. 

I'm looking forward to hearing her story, though, in the meantime, I might hold off on purchasing my own DNA kit.

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