DNA as digital data changes police work as we know it

With the rise of digital DNA technologies surveillance efforts move from the surface of the body into its deep genetic structures. But the processes behind these technologies are not yet understood.


On Monday, the project delved deeper into the new alliances between biology and technology in a first seminar.

Photo: private


When we hear the word surveillance, images of cameras and facial grids come to mind. In the past few years, an unexpected player entered the scene: DNA. The carrier of genetic information has rapidly become a new type of data for criminal investigations. The collection of DNA for police work surged in the 1990s. Recent trends signal a shift in the ways in which DNA serves as information: DNA has gone “big”. It is collected, stored and analyzed with digital means. Today, DNA is stored in many different databases. We find technologies that investigate the history of a person, calculate matches among DNA samples or predict what suspects could look like. Neither is there enough knowledge about how these technologies work across sectors, nor how they influence society at large. Digital DNA creates insights into these developments. It also places digital DNA issues in a broader debate about the ways in which biology and technology become increasingly integrated.


On Monday, the project delved deeper into the new alliances between biology and technology in a first seminar. Professionals from the Social Sciences, Forensics, Criminology, Medicine and the Arts provided “ignition” presentations. These brief performances initiated the empirical and theoretical work of the project. Together, they constituted a glossary of concepts and challenges that will be relevant for Digital DNA in the coming years. The roles of devices, processes of translation within and between professions and the promissory ethical regimes of new DNA technologies were some of the themes that were discussed. Representatives from the National Crime Investigation Service, Biology, Forensic Genetics as well as the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board shared concrete challenges for the project to study. Research communication for different audiences and the role of art in broaching issues of DNA technologies were other central inspirational talks.


"This was an important set of discussions, which will surely accompany the work of the project in the coming years. We are incredibly thankful for having such knowledgeable and generous people offering their guidance.” – stated project leader Mareile Kaufmann.

Photo: private