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Belgium: Antwerp Attorney-General Calls for Comprehensive DNA Database

(Dec. 5, 2013) Yves Liégeois, the Attorney-General (Procureur-général) of Antwerp, has recently suggested that DNA samples be taken from all babies born in Belgium, as well as from all new immigrants, and entered into a database that could be used to solve future crimes. “I think it would be a good idea to collect DNA material from all newborns and all new arrivals in this country,” Liégeois said on November 16, 2013. “This would be a great step to help solve crimes. Of course, there would need to be strict legal guidelines on the authorized use of the data collected.” He also shared his view that current Belgian legislation on the protection of privacy, which would be an obstacle to such a comprehensive DNA database, goes “much too far.” (Enregistrons l’ADN des nouveaux-nés et des nouveaux arrivants dans ce pays,” LE SOIR (Nov. 16, 2013).)

Liégeois’ suggestion has turned out to be very controversial. Several police unions find his idea appealing, and an online poll found that about 60% of Flemish responders agree. However, most political leaders are refraining from commenting, and several legal experts consider the proposal worrisome.(Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le procureur général d’Anvers veut ficher l’ADN des nouveau-nés, LE MONDE (Nov. 18, 2013).)

The Commission for the Protection of Privacy (Commission de la protection de la vie privée) declared through a spokeswoman that it is not necessarily against the collection of DNA, but that there should be precise limits to avoid Belgium’s becoming a “Big Brother society.” (Prélever l’ADN des nourrissons pour lutter contre la criminalité, RTBF (Nov. 16, 2013).) The spokeswoman also pointed out that whereas there is already a database on the DNA of convicted criminal offenders, the agency in charge of that database does not have the technical and human resources necessary to expand it to include all newborn babies. (Id.)