Fingerprints and DNA profiles: Obtaining faster information from foreign police services thanks to the Prüm Convention

Securing a DNA sample
Securing a DNA sample (Photo: fedpol)

Key points in brief:

  • Matching DNA profiles and fingerprints rapidly is crucial for advancing police inquiries and identifying links between cases, both in Switzerland and abroad.
  • At present, if Switzerland wants to obtain information on fingerprints, DNA profiles, vehicles and vehicle owners from foreign authorities, it has to ask each country individually, without knowing whether the country in question has the required information or will even respond to the request.
  • The Prüm Convention will allow Swiss law enforcement services to exchange police information more swiftly and more efficiently with EU member states.
  • The Prüm Convention speeds up investigations and enables links to be established between crimes in Switzerland and abroad.

Crime often crosses national borders, which is why international cooperation is key to combating it. Cooperation under the Prüm Convention will make the exchange of information between Swiss law enforcement services and those in EU member states faster and more efficient.

Nowadays, terrorists, criminal organisations and transnational gangs operate online, with strong networks across national borders. For example, DNA samples from investigations coordinated across Switzerland into ATM explosions in several cantons led to arrests in Austria and Denmark. To combat this type of cross-border crime more effectively, closer international cooperation is needed.

Information that is vital to police work, such as DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, is stored in national information systems. If Swiss investigating authorities find DNA samples at a crime scene, they first check them against the national DNA database. If there are no matches, they can then check against other countries' databases. This is currently a lengthy process as the request has to be sent out to all countries individually via Interpol. The Prüm Convention will allow an automated search to be triggered in the databases of all participating EU countries with a single request.

The databases concerned are:

Comparaison d’une empreinte digitale à l’écran.
Comparaison d’une empreinte digitale à l’écran. (Photo: fedpol)

Thanks to the Prüm Convention, fedpol can quickly establish which countries possess the necessary information.

This cooperation allows law enforcement services to identify and locate more rapidly than was previously possible:

  • criminals or witnesses
  • persons wanted at international level
  • missing or deceased persons

The Prüm Convention is not an extension of the Schengen Agreement; Switzerland's participation is therefore voluntary. However, almost all European countries already exchange DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle data via Prüm.

Faster access to information from foreign authorities will make investigations more efficient and will improve international police cooperation.

Preventing and Combating Serious Crime (PCSC) agreement

The PCSC agreement – which was concluded between Switzerland and the United States and is similar in content to the Prüm Convention – also provides for the automated exchange of DNA profiles and fingerprints. The PCSC agreement ensures more efficient police cooperation between Switzerland and the United States.

Access to Eurodac for law enforcement services

The automatic exchange of fingerprints and DNA profiles (Prüm cooperation) is a condition for law enforcement services to be able to access the Eurodac database.

The Eurodac database contains the fingerprints of persons who have applied for asylum in a Dublin member state, or who have been caught attempting to enter the Dublin area illegally.

Law enforcement services may only consult the Eurodac database to prevent or investigate serious crimes or cases of suspected terrorism.

The consultation procedure on the approval and implementation of these three cooperation agreements ran from 13 December 2019 to 31 March 2020. The Federal Council submitted the dispatch on the Prüm, PCSC and Eurodac agreements to Parliament on 5 March 2021. Parliament is expected to deliberate on the bill in 2021.

Last modification 05.03.2021

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