Article Denmark: Parliament Hears Citizen Proposal for Use of DNA Records from Genealogy Sites in Criminal Investigations

On October 5, 2022, a citizen’s initiative (B10) to use genealogy resources in criminal investigation was presented to the Danish Parliament and is now being discussed in the Legal Affairs Committee.

The citizen’s initiative proposes that the police be allowed to use genealogy-site information to narrow criminal suspect searches and find DNA-related profiles.

Rules on Citizen’s Initiatives

Under Danish law, a citizen’s initiative must receive 50,000 signatures within a 180-day time frame to qualify to be presented in the Danish Parliament. (§ 15 Bekendtgørelse om en ordning for borgerforslag med henblik på behandling i Folketinget (BEK nr 843 af 08/06/2022).) Following the presentation (framsættelse) in Parliament, the initiative proceeds in the same manner as a regular piece of legislation, meaning it is first assigned to and discussed by the relevant parliamentary committee and then, if recommended for adoption by the committee, voted on twice by the Parliament.

The Initiative

The specific wording of the initiative reads:

   Danish police shall be able to use genetic genealogy as an investigative tool in cases of murder and serious crimes [that are] dangerous to persons, when the following conditions are met:

   The police may use genetic genealogy only subject to a court order.
At the hearing, the following [conditions] must be met:

– The police must document that there is reasonable suspicion that the unidentified DNA originates from the perpetrator.
– Genetic genealogy may be used only in very special cases, including murder, rape, terrorism and the identification of corpses and remains.
– All other existing and available DNA search options must first be exhausted. (Translation by author.)

The citizen initiative was originally created by Martin Wittrup Enggaard, Trine Weedfall Rasmussen, Hans Erik Raben, Birgitte Lyngsøe, Camilla Belling, and Christian Skov, who argued that using genealogy resources is the natural next step in finding perpetrators in otherwise cold cases, referring specifically to the use of the method in the
United States and neighboring Sweden.

The proposal was presented in Parliament by 14 members belonging to 14 of the 17 political parties currently represented in Parliament.  However, presenting the proposal does not necessarily mean support for the proposal, but it enables the proposal to be heard in accordance with the rules on citizen initiatives.

Danish Central DNA Registry Used by the Police

Under Danish law, the police may create a central DNA register of DNA collected from crime scenes and crime suspects. (§§ 1–2 Lov om Det Centrale Dna-Profilregister og Det Centrale Fingeraftryksregister (LOV nr 873 af 21/06/2022).) The rules governing the DNA register include provisions for when DNA information must be removed, depending on whether the identified person is convicted or acquitted, or whether the collected information continues to be relevant for police investigations. (§§ 6–9.)

The Danish National Police (Rigspolitiet) had previously informed the Parliament that its DNA database (det centrale dna-profilregister) of convicted perpetrators did not have the capacity to search for relatives or to indicate partial DNA matches but that such capacity was being built.

Request for Comment by the Danish Ministry of Justice

 The citizen’s initiative has also caused the Danish Ministry of Justice to call upon the Danish police to investigate to what extent DNA from relatives of perpetrators could be used to identify a suspect. Specifically, Minister of Justice Mattias Tesfaye was quoted in a Ministry of Justice press release as stating:  

It is very important that the police have the right tools to solve crimes such as murder and rape. Here, genealogical research can strengthen police investigations. But it raises some significant legal questions. Naturally, these need to be resolved. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice is now, together with the Danish National Police, investigating whether we can introduce genealogical research as an investigative method in Denmark. The Danish National Police is currently investigating the possibilities of using genealogical research in connection with individual criminal cases, and I look forward to seeing the results. At the same time, I have asked the Danish National Police to, as soon as possible, start using the police’s own DNA profile register to search for family relationships in relevant cases. (Translation by author.)

The press release further stated that “[i]t is the evaluation by the Danish National Police that family relationship searches can currently be done within the framework of applicable law.”

Use of Genealogy in Neighboring Nordic Countries

The use of DNA from a genealogy site was used in neighboring Sweden in solving a 16-year-old murder in 2020, where the perpetrator was later convicted of the crime. This use was later criticized and assumed to be unlawful by the Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection. A government investigation was started in 2021 and updated in 2022 to determine if new legislation could be adopted to enable the police to use DNA genealogy resources to solve criminal cases. A final report is due in February of 2023.

Searches by the police in its own databases to find connections to family members have previously been done successfully in Sweden. For example, one 24-year-old cold case involving the rape of a child was solved by the police finding a person in its databases whose DNA partially matched the DNA left at the crime scene by the unknown perpetrator. The police then DNA-tested the relatives of this person and were able to identify the perpetrator, who was convicted of the crime.

No date has been set for when the Legal Affairs Committee will report back with its recommendations to Parliament.

Elin Hofverberg, Law Library of Congress
October 31, 2022

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