Bart Custers on DNA in cold cases
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) want to use private DNA databases in an effort to solve deadlocked murder cases. Bart Custers, Professor of Law & Data Science at eLaw, Center for Law and Digital Technologies, expects that this is permissible from a legal perspective. However, as he states in Dutch newspaper 'De Volkskrant', he would like to see that it is first clearly set out how DNA profiles from genealogical databases may be used.
Private American DNA databases contain genetic material from people who submit it voluntarily and pay to find out more about where they come from. Since 2018, the US has been using data from these companies which has led to around 550 cold cases being solved, according to the Dutch OM. Sweden was the first European country to turn to private databases and as a result was able to solve a double murder case in 2020. To create the family tree that led to the perpetrator, they used church records going back to the 18th century.
Custers is sympathetic towards the approach proposed by the OM. It could, after all, help track down perpetrators who would otherwise get away with a serious crime. However, he would like to see that it is first clearly set out how DNA profiles from genealogical databases would be used. ‘That’s a task for the legislature and parliament.’ Issues to consider are in what type of cases would it be permissible to request these DNA profiles, how long can the data be stored, and exactly which police officers would have access? Custers: ‘There are all kinds of rules about taking DNA samples following serious crimes, but when it comes to requesting DNA profiles from innocent people, there are no rules.’
The interview (in Dutch) in De Volkskrant (7 March 2023) is available here.