The filters at FamilyTreeDNA started catching some attempted uploads to their database toward the end of 2018. The format was unrecognizable—something they had never seen before. So the company sent an email to the listed point of contact.

Days later, FamilyTreeDNA got a call. It was from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They had uploaded the strangely-formatted files.

The FBI had been accessing the FamilyTreeDNA website for an undetermined length of time, availing themselves of an open database policy for free uploads from customers of other companies like Ancestry and 23andMe.

The FamilyTreeDNA leaders were presented with a crucial choice: whether to fight the FBI who already had access and were talking of filing a virtually endless succession of subpoena after subpoena … or to cooperate with them, and try to regulate the investigative activities.