DNA in police work. New methods. New challenges?
Webinar 23-25 September, 2020 

Dates: 23-25 September (see programme below)
Venue: Webinar - access information will be distributed
Organizers: The Nordic Committee on Bioethics and The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board

The event is public and free of charge - Registration will open in August (subscribe to our newsletter to keep informed)

Wednesday 23 September:     11 am - 1.15 pm (Oslo time): Talks followed by Q&A
Thursday 24 September:         11 am - 1.30 pm (Oslo time): Talks followed by Q&A
Friday 25 September:               11 am - 12.30 pm (Oslo time). Roundtable discussion

In the mid-1980s, a method for identifying individuals through DNA analysis was invented. Today, DNA fingerprinting is used all over the world in cases involving criminal activity and missing persons.

These tests use part of the DNA, previously known as junk DNA, that don’t code for actual characteristics in people. This has been viewed as a strength of the method in light of privacy considerations.

However, in recent years new methods for using DNA in police work have been developed. We now have the ability to search for a partial match of a DNA profile and identify potential family members, whether in police or private ancestry databases. Another method, known as DNA phenotyping, involves genetic testing that can provide information about what an unknown suspect might look like. This method may be useful when there is no matching DNA profile in the
Both methods have been used to help solve cases. In Europe, however, only a few countries have amended its legislation to allowed new uses of DNA testing. In many countries the legal framework is uncertain.

The use of new DNA methods raises questions relating to technology, legal framework and ethics.

Pictures taken from the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg´s work «Stranger visions».
With kind permission from the artist.*

We will focus on the ethics of the subject and have invited people with different backgrounds to discuss topics such as:

  •  Which challenges are known from police work today and which are new?
  • Regulation and practice in the Nordics and in Europe
  • Privacy and genetic integrity
  • Profiling and discrimination: Is this technology neutral or are there embedded biases?
  • The ethics of visual representations: Are visual traits less stigmatising? Or the opposite?
  • Technologisation: A space left for human judgment?
  • Good and bad practice: The ethics of context and communication


  • Thomas Berg, Centre for forensic science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
  • Nicolaj Sivan Holst, Faculty of Law, Aarhus
  • Mareile Kaufman, Peace Research Institute Oslo; Department of criminology and sociology of law, University of Oslo
  • Jari Louhelainen, Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, University of Liverpool
  • Amade M´charek, prof. of Anthropology of science, University of Amsterdam
  • Jens Erik Paulsen, The Norwegian Police University College, Oslo
  • Gabrielle Samuel, King’s college London
  • Björgvin Sigurðsson, Forensic specialist at the Crime Scene Unit of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police, Reykjavik
  • Andreas Tillmar, University of Linköping, Sweden
  • Turid Haugen Tor, The National Criminal Investigation Service Norway
  • Victor Toom, independent 
  • Matthias Wienroth, Centre for Crime & Policing, Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University, UK

* In her work «Stranger Visions» the artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg collected hairs, chewed up gum, and cigarette butts from the streets, public bathrooms and waiting rooms of New York City. After extracting DNA from them she made portraits representing what those individuals might look like, based on genomic research. Read more about the project hereAn article in norwegian about her work can be read here.