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This guest post by Joaquín Sarrión Esteve,  Assistant Professor, University of Valencia and IALS Visiting Fellow, discusses legal issues around biometric data, based on a seminar presentation in November 2014.

Biometric data represent particular challenges in the fight against globalized crime. New technologies help us to identify persons, using fingerprint/palm print identification, iris identification, face recognition or DNA technology, for example.

The exclusivity of DNA facilitates its use for both paternity investigation, and identifying persons in criminal investigation, by obtaining the DNA or genetic profile.

We can use what is called the non-coding DNA for criminal investigation, which provides a characteristic of each individual. It is an anonymous code distinguishing feature and it can be useful for identifying the identity but it does not provide information on the physical or phenotypic traits of the individual (called the coding DNA ), although we also use the sex characteristic provision. The problem is that science allows the conversion of non-coding DNA to coding DNA.

The exchange of DNA data between EU Member States can help a lot in the fight against globalized crime. In this sense, the EU Legal Framework is based on the assumption of Prüm Convention regime: Council Decision 2008/615/JHA of 23 June 2008 (known as Prüm decision), Council Decision 2008/616/JHA of 23 June 2008 on the implementation of Decision 2008/615/JHA; and Council Decision 2010/482/EU of 26 July 2010 on the conclusion of the Agreement between the European Union and Iceland and Norway on the application of certain provisions of Prüm decisions.

Anyway, the goal of using DNA data is to obtain valid evidence for a criminal process [in general, a national criminal process]. And to do it, the DNA evidence must be obtained with respect to fundamental rights and legal guarantees in the three stages: the sample collection, the extraction of DNA profile and its treatment in a criminal database (Cabezudo Bajo, 2011).

Really, the problems in relation to this goal arise at three levels: the technical conditions, the interpretation of the results, and finally the respect of fundamental rights in the realization of the DNA evidence.

The goal of my research is to identify the requirements for the respect of fundamental rights in the use of DNA technology in the third stage, because the exchange of DNA data between EU Member States is located at the third stage. Nevertheless, another problem is that to obtain valid DNA evidence using EU exchange data, we need to respect fundamental rights in the three stages. In other words, it is necessary to look at all three stages to identify the requirements of one in isolation.

Moreover, we live in the European legal space, in a context of legal systems with different levels which are increasingly interlinked (Gómez Sánchez, 2011: 20), and therefore we need to use a European multilevel constitutionalism approach to identify fundamental rights and standards that we need to respect (European Convention on Human Rights, EU Fundamental Rights, EU Member States Fundamental Rights) and in order to achieve the goal of obtaining valid DNA evidence.

More information:

  • Download a Powerpoint presentation of Joaquín Sarrión’s research at IALS at this link

References:

M. J. Cabezudo Bajo (2011): “Valoración del sistema de protección del dato de ADN en el ámbito europeo”, Revista General de Derecho Europeo, 25.

M. J. Cabezudo Bajo (ed) (2013): Las bases de datos policiales de ADN ¿son una herramienta realmente eficaz en la lucha contra la criminalidad grave nacional y transfronteriza, Dykinson.

Y. Gómez Sánchez (2011): Constitucionalismo multinivel. Derechos fundamentales, Sanz y Torres.

J. Sarrión Esteve (2014),  “Derechos fundamentales afectados en la toma de muestras biológicas para la obtención de una prueba de ADN válida y eficaz, desde el punto de vista del Derecho interno y del Derecho de la Unión Europea.”, Revista de Derecho y Genoma Humano / Law and the Human Genome Review, Extra 1.