German law would allow police to use DNA to identify suspects | News | DW | 02.08.2019
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German law would allow police to use DNA to identify suspects

Police in Germany may soon be able to use DNA to build a more detailed picture of wanted fugitives. Under a new proposed law, authorities could be allowed to identify a suspect's age as well as skin color.

Germany's Justice Ministry has proposed a bill that would permit police to use DNA analysis to determine characteristics that are currently off-limits, such as a suspect's age and the color of their skin, eyes and hair.

The planned changes were reported by the Funke Media Group and the German press agency dpa on Thursday.

Under current laws, police can only use collected genetic samples — for example, hair, skin cells or blood droplets from a crime scene —  to test for an unknown individual's gender, or to search for a match in a DNA database.

Read more: DNA evidence 'solves' five 1989 German murder mysteries

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Forensic DNA analysis for crime scenes

Relying on DNA

The draft bill states that expanding the possibilities of DNA analysis will help modernize criminal investigations and "clarify the true facts."

Sebastian Fiedler, head of Germany's Criminal Law Enforcement Association (BDK), said the reform would be "extremely helpful" to police, and could help them rule out false suspects early on. 

Criminologist Tobias Singelstein from the Ruhr University in western Germany also acknowledged the benefits, but warned that DNA results only reflect probabilities.

"There is a danger that investigators would put too much value on the DNA results," he told dpa. "That could lead to other investigative approaches being prematurely excluded."

Read more: Berlin's Sonnenallee: Is Germany's best-known crime scene all that bad?

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DNA detective

Discrimination concerns

The draft law has been submitted to the government and ministries, and will later be sent to the Cabinet for approval.

In the text, the Justice Ministry stressed that DNA analysis was not discriminatory, because it was not directed at any one group of people. It added that if such analysis identifies a suspect as belonging to a minority, it should not "lead to an abuse of this fact by fueling racist propaganda or hate speech."

However, Konstantin von Notz of the opposition Greens party has raised doubts "that sufficient certainty and accuracy of the analysis is guaranteed, and that the risk of discriminatory prejudice of entire population groups can be excluded."

Read more: From paternity to criminal cases DNA fingerprinting has been 30 years of 'eureka'

Determining ethnicity via DNA testing would remain prohibited, but Singelstein at Ruhr University said it was likely only a matter of time before that changed.

"From the point of view of science, many things can be found out. How far do we want to go? Will this be the last reform? I don't think we will stop here."

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Solving crimes with physics

nm/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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