POSTPONED: Conference in Oslo 23. april: DNA in police work: New methods, new challenges?


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


New methods for using DNA in police work have emerged. What are the technical, legal and ethical challenges?

Time: Thursday 23 April 9-16.30
Place: Oslo, Thon Conference, Universitetsgata 26 (map here)
OrganizersThe Nordic Committee on Bioethics and  The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board

This is a public event and free of charge. Register here!


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

This identification test is done by analysing areas outside of the coding regions of the DNA, earlier referred to as junk DNA. The test is not supposed to reveal genetic information about a person. This limitation has been viewed as a strength in light of privacy considerations.

New methods for using DNA in police work have emerged in recent years. One is the ability to search for a match of a DNA profile via a search for family members, either in police registries or in private ancestry databases. Another, known as DNA phenotyping, involves genetic tests for visible traits that can provide information about what an unknown suspect might look like. This method may be useful when a search for a match of the DNA profile is without result.

Both methods have been used and have helped to solve cases. In Europe, however, The Netherlands is the only country that has amended its legislation to regulate new tests.

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

We will focus on the ethical questions and invite people with different background to discuss topics such as:

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




09: Welcome

09.10-10.00: Key note. The Ethical Governance Imperative: Forensics & Surveillance at a Crossroads

Dr Matthias Wienroth, Senior Research Associate, Policy, Ethics, and Life Sciences (PEALS) Research Centre, Newcastle University


10.15-11.50: Perspectives from the Nordics

Björgvin Sigurðsson, Forensic specialist at the Crime Scene Unit of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police, Reykjavik:

«Forensic DNA in Iceland: Past, present and possible future»

Turid Haugen Tor, The National Criminal Investigation Service Norway: «DNA in police work in Norway»*

Andreas Tillmar, University of Linköping, Sweden: «Recent cases from police work in Sweden»*

Thomas Berg, Centre for forensic science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway: “On DNA phenotyping”*

Jari Louhelainen, Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, University of Liverpool:

«New opportunities in forensic DNA analysis: from drownings to wolfs”

Nicolaj Sivan Holst, Faculty of Law, Aarhus: «On laws and regulation with special focus on Denmark»*


11.50-12.30: Key note – ethics and society:

Amade M´charek, prof. of Anthropology of science, University of Amsterdam

Q&A Lunch

13.30-15.30: Ethics and society

Mareile Kaufman, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Department of criminology and sociology of law, University of Oslo: «The digitization of DNA evidence – What is at stake?»

Gabrielle Samuel, Kings college London: «Ethical and social challenges of ‘new’ forensic genetic technologies»

Victor Toom, independent: «A field of tensions: The suspect population and the non-suspected person of interest»

Jens Erik Paulsen, The Norwegian Police University College, Oslo: «On ethics in police training»*

15.30-16.30 Panel discussions


* tentative title




Truls Petersen: +47 97088101 / truls.petersen@bioteknologiradet.no
Madeleine Hayenhjelm: madeleine.hayenhjelm@umu.se
Sigurður Kristinsson: sigkr@unak.is


* 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 here.

An article in norwegian about her work can be read here.



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Siden ble opprettet: 13.11.2019. Siden ble oppdatert: 13.03.2020

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