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Bart Custers on using genealogical DNA in criminal cases

The Public Prosecutor's Office (OM) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) want to use private DNA databases for genealogical research in criminal investigations. The method could be used in serious criminal cases that have stalled and it is already being used in investigations abroad. Whether this will also be allowed in the Netherlands will soon be tested in court as the OM and NFI want to use this detection method in two cold cases. These are cases in which DNA material is available from an as yet unknown suspect or from a crime victim whose identity is not yet known to the police and the OM.

In an interview on the Dutch NOS news site, Bart Custers, Professor of Law and Data Science at Leiden Law School, says that it is probably legally permissible for the prosecution to extract data from databases if the companies cooperate. That said, he has certain reservations about this investigative method, despite a number of breakthroughs. ‘In Sweden, for example, despite a breakthrough, they want to stop for a while because they have reservations about this method. The main concern is in the area of privacy.’

‘In the database, you don’t see the DNA data of the perpetrator, but that of the persons related to them’, says Custers. ‘You’re using that information to try to track down the perpetrator. But it means that you’re entering sensitive data of innocent citizens in police systems’.

According to Custers, it is also not clear what else the data is used for. ‘If it is stored in a database, it can also be used in other places. A lot of information can be accessed through DNA. In this case, the intentions are good. But perhaps that data will later on end up abroad or be entered in health databases. Different laws apply in other countries. That needs to be reined in and monitored’.

See interview (in Dutch) on NOS news

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