Move to give police EU-wide access to DNA files attacked

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.3, 18.1.01, p6
Publication Date 18/01/2001
Content Type

Date: 18/01/01

By John Shelley

THE Swedish presidency is hoping to push through controversial plans to let member states exchange information on the genetic makeup of their citizens.

Stockholm wants an agreement on common standards for recording DNA profiles to encourage EU nations to swap records from their law-enforcement databases. Diplomats say empowering police forces to exchange such data will boost cooperation in the fight against international crime.

But civil liberties groups fear the proposals would represent the first step towards a European genetic database being set up without proper controls to protect the privacy of citizens.

Under the plans EU nations would agree common 'markers' for the way DNA information is recorded and guidelines on how to exchange analysis.

The proposals are designed to make it as easy as possible for the police to swap files. For example, they include a design for a standard form on which genetic information can be recorded.

"It will help police cooperation throughout Europe if we all use the same standards for DNA information," said one member state official. "These proposals are on a very practical level."

The plans, earmarked for approval by justice ministers in March, are based on legislation originally proposed by the Finnish during their presidency in 1999.

Their plans followed an earlier resolution by justice ministers in 1997, calling on member states to set up national DNA databases with a view to exchanging genetic information.

In its follow-up proposals Helsinki called for Union nations to be legally obliged to adopt the same standards for recording DNA, but the plans have since been altered to a non-binding 'resolution'.

Civil liberties groups worry that instead of watering down the proposals, however, this will allow police in different countries to begin exchanging files without the legal safeguards that would prevent the genetic profiles of innocent citizens being passed freely around. Such protection would probably be written into binding legislation.

"Making it a resolution means that it will not be binding on governments but it will allow them to exchange DNA profiles; it's a way of avoiding proper scrutiny," said Tony Bunyan of civil liberties group Statewatch.

Campaigners say the UK provides an example of the dangers of unmonitored storing of DNA information. British police have been accused of holding genetic profiles of people who have never been found guilty of committing a crime.

The Swedish presidency is hoping to push through controversial plans to let Member States exchange information on the genetic makeup of their citizens.

Subject Categories