Jeff the Great Quells an Uprising

Recently I've noticed what may be an increasing irreverence of the law. Specifically are two very different but interesting examples.

First, the uproar over the suicide of Aaron Swartz. Not the uproar about his death specifically, but the blame that Swartz supporters are levying on others. If you are unfamiliar with the Aaron Swartz story, here is an overly simplified overview. Swartz is an internet celebrity and internet/technology advocate. He (allegedly) hacked into the MIT computer network, downloaded proprietary research from JSTOR, and then freely distributed JSTOR's property on the internet. He was charged with at least 6 felonies and faced anywhere from 6 months to 35 years in jail. He committed suicide recently, and his family reports that he took such an unfortunate and permanent action because he was so distraught over the legal action pending against him. Many Aaron Swartz supporters (and lovers of the internet for that matter) are blaming Aaron's death on the legal system.

This blows me away. Apparently some people have a hard time separating their affinity from things like logic and reason. Like it or not, breaking into a private computer network and stealing property is a crime! Swartz (allegedly) broke the law! If someone broke into your company, stole your valuable property, and gave it away to strangers for free, would you not expect them to be prosecuted?

Another example comes from my home state of Oregon where a county sheriff has warned the Obama administration that he will not enforce any new gun laws or regulations that he believes violate the Second Amendment. Yes, you read that correctly, he will not enforce the law. The problem here is that it is not a sheriff's job to decide what is or isn't law. That's why they are called law enforcement, not law makers.

Our country has arguably the most fair, transparent, and civilized legal system. The people elect representatives, who create laws, enforced by the legal system, and ultimately ratified or shot down by the courts (specifically, the Supreme Court). There are fair, transparent, and civilized ways of challenging or changing the law. If society doesn't like something, they can change it. Swartz had every opportunity to a fair trial and full defense. Sheriffs and the citizens of their counties have a voice through their elected representatives and via elections.

Why do supporters of the internet and information freedom believe they get to unilaterally decide what is a crime or isn't? Would they have cared so much if Swartz wasn't an internet icon or if it were their property broken into and stolen? Why does a sheriff think he can ignore the law of the land and interpret the constitution on his own?

What happened to the rule of law and civility? This is a scary trend and I hope it does not continue.


Jeff the Great Ponders His DNA

For Christmas, I got my wife a personal genetic test for health and ancestry from a company called 23andMe. Essentially, a DNA test. After spitting in a tube and mailing it in, the company tells you all sorts of cool things like where your recent ancestors come from, where your deep genealogical roots are in the ancient world, what the chances are that you'll pass on more than 40 inherited conditions, and your chances at developing more than 250 different diseases. You also have the opportunity to contribute to important research around things like genetic diseases or even the discovery of what gene causes back hair. All that for the price of $99.

Pretty amazing to think about how far technology has come to deliver personal genetic analysis for only a hundred bucks. While this service offered by 23andMe is not a full gene sequencing, I'd like to offer an example of how far technology as come in such a short period of time. In 2005, a full genome sequencing for a single person cost approximately $17.5 million dollars. Just 7 years later in 2012, the cost had plummeted to just $7,500 (source: genome.gov). Similarly, the less complex genetic analysis at 23andMe has dropped in price. Starting out at $999 in 2007, the price dropped to to $299 and finally $99 in December of 2012.

So the price is right and I am ready to jump. Except, I have all these long term implication questions in my head. Not about how I'll handle learning about potentially scary health things or surprising ancestry, I'm fine with all that. I am worried about the privacy and legal implications.

If I become a customer of 23andMe, will I be putting my life, freedom, and/or privacy at risk in the future? Could a court subpoena my genetic information from 23andMe and use it against me in a trial? Could a health insurance company ever get their hands on my personally identifiable information and use it to effect my rates? When required to disclose health information, would I be legally and morally obligated to disclose information from the 23andMe results? Could the optionally stored saliva sample, with personally identifiable information, be handed over to anyone else in the future?

My mind is running with all sorts of crazy thoughts! Increased insurance premiums, conviction of a crime, etc, etc! Could I be denied the opportunity to be President of the United States in the future because my health isn't up to par, or because my recent ancestors were discovered to be from outside the country? Crazy thoughts, I know....but who knows what the future holds, right?

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts or if you have participated in 23andMe, your experience. If you are a legal professional, I am especially interested in your opinion.