Germany Considers Expanding DNA Testing | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.01.2005
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Germany Considers Expanding DNA Testing

A quickly solved high-profile murder case has led some German politicians to call for more DNA testing. But opponents say they still worry about privacy issues.


Moshammer's killer was arrested based on DNA evidence

Following the quick arrest of the confessed killer of German tabloid personality Rudolph Moshammer, several German politicians and top law-enforcement officials have come out in favor of increased DNA testing.

However, other politicians -- notably some from the Green and neo-liberal Free Democrat parties -- have stuck to their arguments that broader DNA testing could infringe on civil rights.

According to current law, DNA testing can only be used in serious felonies and sex offenses.

Rudolph Moshammer gestorben

Munich fashion czar Rudolph Moshammer was killed last week

Within days of the death of German clothing designer and media figure Rudolph Moshammer, police arrested a 25-year-old Iraqi who confessed to the killing. The quick resolution was due to DNA tracing, since the Federal Criminal Police already had the suspect's "genetic fingerprint" in their database. The suspect had previously given a voluntary saliva specimen during an earlier, unrelated investigation.

'Red-Green blockade'

Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber came out in favor of widening the use of DNA testing, saying he hopes it will become the 21st century's most decisive investigation tool.

"DNA analysis means criminals can no longer get off without paying for their crime," Stoiber said.

The Christian Democratic Union has long been in favor more DNA testing, Hamburg Justice Minister Roger Kusch noted.

"For years, the Union has been in favor of increasing the use of this important instrument in crime fighting," he told news agencies Monday. But until now, all attempts have run up against the "Red-Green blockade" and the "pseudo-argument of data protection," he said.

Vater und Kind Vaterschaftstest

Analysing DNA

The Moshammer case seems to have unleashed a great deal of support for more DNA testing, sometimes from unexpected quarters.

Key politicians from the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, came out in favor of more testing on Monday, including Social Democrat spokesman Dieter Wiefelspütz.

Wiefelspütz told news agencies that he was "in favor of taking and storing DNA whenever the police record someone's data."

Police want DNA databank

And Fritz Behrens (SPD), Interior Minister of North Rhine Westfalia, told the Rheinische Post newspaper: "DNA analysis must be a standard of police record keeping, like fingerprinting."

Top law enforcement officials also used the Moshammer case to stress the importance of keeping a databank of DNA samples, saying "genetic fingerprinting" has replaced classic fingerprinting in terms of its value.

Konrad Freiberg, head of Germany's Policemen's Association, told the Netzeitung internet newspaper: "The encroachment of genetic testing on civil rights is no greater than that of the classic fingerprint or the identification photograph."

Breach of privacy?

He added, "the more genetic fingerprints from suspected criminals we have on register, the more crimes will be solved."

But several Green party officials have voiced their opposition to more testing. Jerzy Montag, legal expert for the Greens, warned against abusing the DNA analysis. "The apprehension of the criminal (in the Moshammer case) took place according to the law, and proves that there is no hole in the current law," he said.

"DNA analysis is an excellent investigative tool -- and also a serious intrusion of the basic rights of German law, as it applies to privacy and data protection," he said. Thus there needs to be an "intelligent solution" to using the technology, he argued.

Green party spokesman Volker Beck also opposed the tests. DNA tests can bring other personal information, such as illnesses, to light, he said. Because of the potential dangers of exposing this information, the bar must remain high for collecting and storing DNA data, he told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Monday.

Free Democrat party spokesman Max Stadler also told the Berliner Zeitung he was opposed to raising DNA analysis to the same level as other investigative techniques. Above all, Germany must set legal conditions for obligatory widespread genetic testing, he said.

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