Sweden joins European DNA data-sharing system

From the summer of 2013, Swedish police will be able to access other European Union nations' DNA databases - a move which is expected to speed up international crime investigations.

Sweden joins European DNA data-sharing system

Currently, Swedish police can send DNA profiles to other countries to search for matches, but it is a time consuming process since the DNA samples are sent by post to at least five different authorities.

The new system is much faster, allowing Swedish police to receive notice of a potential DNA match from another country within a day, Sveriges Television (SVT) reported on Sunday.

The system is based on the Prüm Convention, which was adopted to enable signatories to exchange data regarding DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registration and other personal information.

The Prüm Convention is meant to facilitate cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration.

But it has also drawn criticism from data protection experts who have warned that the international DNA data exchanges could lead to privacy infringements.

When Swedish police find traces of DNA at a crime scene, they send a sample to the Swedish National Laboratory of Forensic Science (Statens kriminaltekniska laboratorium) in Linköping, south-east Sweden, which then creates a DNA profile.

Under the new rules, the lab is not restricted to searching in Swedish DNA databases, but can access those of all 16 countries that have signed the Prüm Convention since it was drawn up in 2005.

“The idea is that you will be able run automatic searches for DNA profiles in other countries’ registers,” Anna Granlund, group manager at the Linköping lab, told SVT.

“When we do not get a hit on a person in our national register we will be able to send the profile to other countries and hope for a hit there,” Granlund explained.

As of the summer of 2013, Sweden will start sending DNA profiles to the Netherlands, the one country that Sweden has had a trial exchange programme with so far.

Next up is Finland, followed by the Baltic nations. Sweden must run a trial programme with each country before implementing the exchanges with those countries.

“This can be very positive for us,” Fredrik Gårdare of the Stockholm police told SVT.

“We estimate that a third of all burglaries are carried out by international gangs and the vast majority are people who are not previously known to us so we hope this will help clear up more crimes.”

But the EU data-sharing treaty has drawn criticism in the past, with some warning that the system lacks safeguards to ensure sufficient data protection for the public.

“I’m not so sure whether all the countries involved have the same level of protection to make the scheme workable,” the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Peter Hustinx told the Computer World UK magazine back in 2007.

“We need a level playing field in terms of safeguards.”

Without such safeguards, “legal protection” for EU citizens as well as “the efficiency of law enforcement” would be at risk, warned Hustinx.

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