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Minister Flanagan activates legal provisions to facilitate international exchange of forensic identification data to combat cross-border crime

  • Reciprocal exchange of DNA and other identification data with other States will greatly enhance international cross-border cooperation in tackling crime
  • The DNA Database System operated by Forensic Science Ireland will now be used in tandem with such databases in other countries to assist in the investigation and prosecution of crime

3 December 2018

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has announced the coming into operation, with effect from today, of forensic evidence legislation facilitating the exchange and comparison of identification evidence, such as DNA profiles and fingerprints, with other States.

Having signed the Commencement Order in respect of the relevant international cooperation provisions in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, the Minister said: “The commencement of the remaining provisions in the 2014 DNA Act represents a very significant development in assisting An Garda Síochána, and indeed police forces in other jurisdictions, in the investigation of crime. The coming into operation of these legal provisions will facilitate the exchange of DNA profiles and other identification evidence with other States, greatly enhancing international cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime. This enhanced international system will greatly assist police authorities in closing the net on criminals who travel from one country to another to engage in criminal acts.”

Access to the national DNA database and automated fingerprint information system by other States will be strictly controlled and have regard to data protection requirements in respect of personal data. Searches will be conducted by officers authorised for that purpose using DNA profiles or fingerprint data that do not contain any identifying information on the person concerned. In other words, it will be anonymous. In the event that a search reveals a match between the data supplied and data contained on the database being searched, the matter must be pursued within the mutual assistance framework under the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008. The 2014 DNA Act made extensive amendments to the 2008 Act in order to ensure that persons whose DNA profiles or other forensic identification data are transmitted to other States under mutual assistance arrangements benefit from a comparable level of safeguards as is available to persons who are the subject of criminal investigations within the State.

The Minister added: “I have no doubt that access to DNA and such databases between States has huge potential to be very useful in view of the international mobility of criminals. I am also conscious, however, of the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the investigation of crime in the public interest and protecting individuals’ personal rights. The mutual assistance arrangements in place in our national legislation ensure that personal data of Irish citizens accessed by other States will have the same level of safeguards as would apply to such data in respect of criminal investigations within this jurisdiction.”

The national DNA Database System, maintained and operated by Forensic Science Ireland, has already proved to be an effective intelligence tool in its first 3 years in existence. The database facilitates the matching of DNA profiles from crime scenes (known as crime stains) with DNA profiles uploaded from individuals under criminal investigation, convicted criminals and former offenders, with a view to solving these crimes and securing convictions. As of the beginning of November this year, the database contained 16,361 DNA profiles of suspected offenders and convicted offenders, along with 4,971 crime stain profiles. There have been some 1,825 person-to-stain matches to date, with a crime stain match effective rate of 36.7%, which compares well internationally. The crime stain match effective rate measures the crime solving capacity, which means that 37 out of every 100 crime stains uploaded onto the database are linked to a person.

The Minister concluded: “I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the largely unseen but very important and effective work of Forensic Science Ireland, which is headed up by Director General Chris Enright, and on their successful operation of the DNA Database System to date. Forensic Science Ireland continue to provide invaluable scientific expertise and assistance to agencies involved in criminal investigation. I wish them well as they embark on a new phase in the operation of the DNA Database System, building on national success in an international context, and for fruitful cooperative interaction with their international partner organisations in the field of forensic evidence.”

Note to editors:

The 2014 DNA Act introduced a new statutory framework for forensic evidence and established a DNA database system to assist in the investigation of crime, and with the identification of missing or unknown persons.

The vast majority of the provisions of the Act came into operation in November 2015, when the new DNA database system went live. It was not possible, however, to commence the provisions relating to the automated exchange and comparison of identification data with other States, which implement key provisions of the Prum Council Decision on cross-border cooperation on criminal matters, pending completion of detailed technical and administrative arrangements. This process included a comprehensive peer evaluation, piloting and testing the automated exchange of data, ensuring that data protection requirements can be complied with, and finally EU Council approval. The process has now been completed, with Council having adopted the relevant implementing decisions in respect of the exchange of personal data on 19 November 2018.

This has facilitated the reciprocal exchange of DNA and other identification data with designated States, currently EU Member States and Iceland and Norway, which will commence on a phased basis in Ireland. Other States can also be designated for such forensic data exchange under the national legislation.