Forensic expertise and the exchange of forensic data is vital to international investigations.
At INTERPOL, we maintain databases of fingerprints, DNA profiles and facial images, allowing police across the world to make connections between criminals and crime scenes. We also provide training to police in our member countries, to ensure that frontline officers have the knowledge and skills necessary to assess, preserve and share evidence in line with best practices.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules contain the information all living cells in the human body need to function. They also control the inheritance of characteristics from parents to offspring.
With the exception of identical twins, each person’s DNA is unique, which makes DNA sampling useful for solving crimes, identifying victims of disasters, and locating missing persons.
The role of DNA in solving crimes
DNA profiling can play a crucial role in solving crimes, as it has the potential to link a series of crimes and/or to place a suspect at the scene of a crime. Just as importantly, DNA can help to prove a suspect’s innocence.
The first step in obtaining DNA profiles for comparison is the collection of samples from crime scenes and reference samples from suspects. Samples are commonly obtained from blood, hair or body fluids. Advances in DNA technology enable samples to be obtained from decreasingly smaller traces of DNA found at crime scenes.
Using forensic science methods, the sample is analysed, resulting in a DNA profile that can be compared against other DNA profiles within a database. This creates the opportunity for ‘hits’ – person-to-scene, scene-to-scene or person-to-person matches – where no previous connection was known.
INTERPOL’s DNA database
Police in member countries can submit a DNA profile from offenders, crime scenes, missing persons and unidentified bodies to INTERPOL’s automated DNA database. The database search result is provided within 15 minutes.
Known as the DNA Gateway, the database was initiated in 2002. By August 2016, it contained more than 155,000 DNA profiles contributed by more than 70 member countries.
Participating countries actively use the DNA Gateway as a tool in their criminal investigations, and it regularly detects potential links between DNA profiles submitted by member countries. Searches of the database by member countries led to 49 international hits during the period from January to August 2016.
Member countries can access the database via the organization’s I-24/7 global police communications system and, upon request, access can be extended beyond the member countries’ National Central Bureaus to forensic centres and laboratories.
INTERPOL serves only as the conduit for the sharing and comparison of information. We do not keep any nominal data linking a DNA profile to any individual. A DNA profile is simply a list of numbers based on the pattern of an individual’s DNA, producing a numerical code which can be used to differentiate individuals.
This profile does not contain information about a person’s physical or psychological characteristics, diseases or predisposition for diseases. Member countries that use the DNA Gateway retain ownership of their profile data and control its submission, access by other countries and destruction in accordance with their national laws.
Promoting standards, ethics and best practice
We advocate international technical standards and systems in order to enhance the opportunities for successful cross-border collaboration. For example:
- The DNA Gateway is developed to its internationally recognized standard to facilitate the electronic transfer of DNA data between INTERPOL and its member countries.
- The Gateway is also compatible with the EU Pruem DNA Data Exchange Network, and for selected international export of DNA profiles for countries using CODIS (the FBI-designed DNA matching software).
- The G8 DNA Search Request Network uses INTERPOL’s I-24/7 system and DNA standards to communicate profiles among G8 countries.
In addition to the DNA Gateway, INTERPOL strongly supports the increased use of DNA profiling in international police investigations through a variety of other activities:
- The Monitoring Expert Group is a panel of forensic experts and senior investigators which advises INTERPOL and encourages authorities in member countries to implement or expand national DNA databases.
- Best practice principles: Recommendations for the Establishment of a National DNA Database
- INTERPOL Best practice principles: Recommendations on the Use of DNA for the Identification of Missing Persons and Unidentified Human Remains
- A DNA Users’ Conference for investigative officers, held every two years, examines developments in DNA applications and encourages the widespread use of best practice and DNA technology in criminal investigations.
- Regional and national INTERPOL DNA workshops are organized to encourage and facilitate international DNA exchange through the INTERPOL DNA Gateway.
- The INTERPOL DNA Bi-lateral Matcher - a secure private platform for two or more partner countries to compare DNA profiles.
Ongoing investigations: INTERPOL DNA database continues to reveal criminal links
Since 2007, the INTERPOL DNA database has linked different types of crime – armed robbery, prison escape, and the use of forged travel documents – across numerous countries including Croatia, Denmark, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
These crimes are linked to a group of transnational jewellery thieves, known as the Pink Panthers, who have stolen jewellery worth an estimated EUR 320 million.
April 2013: Two perpetrators of gang rape extradited
The INTERPOL DNA database linked a Slovakian national arrested for theft in Austria to a violent gang rape that occurred in Norway in 2008. Based on this hit, the perpetrator was extradited to Norway which through police investigation led to the positive identification of another accomplice. An INTERPOL Notice was put out for this second person who was subsequently located and extradited to Norway.
January 2012: Custodial prison sentence of 61 years given to international serial rapist
Multiple unsolved rapes in the US were linked through the INTERPOL DNA database to a sex offender in Austria. The 32 year old Afghan, who is believed to have visited a number of countries using an alias, was arrested in Austria and extradited to the US and sentenced on the basis of this match.
March 2012: Human bones found on beach identified
A partial skeleton washed up on a beach in Sweden was identified based on the INTERPOL DNA database match with a man reported missing in the UK who had failed to disembark from a ferry bound for the UK from Norway.