China has been investing time, energy and resources into forensic science since the 1980’s and globally-renowned forensic scientist Henry Chang-yu Lee believes it’s about to pay off tipping China to become a world leader in high-tech evidence collection.
“I believe the technology in China will be more advanced than ever in the United States within five years,” the Chinese-American expert said in a recent interview with China Daily.
Lee, who has racked up more than five decades of experience in forensic science, has worked on a number of high-profile criminal cases in the US, but has also shared his wealth of knowledge with students, lawyers, judges and law enforcement in China over the years.
“The apparatus and devices used to identify fingerprints or footprints, for example, were very simple when I first visited Chinese forensic laboratories,” he said.
However, he has seen the technology improve over the years and there have been many advances, particularly in electronic evidence collection and fraud prevention by means of real-time monitoring.
In 2016, Lee and several other experts established the Silk Road Forensic Consortium in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, to fight crime and safeguard security by boosting scientific exchanges among countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The consortium, which has 150 members from 30 countries and regions, provides an open platform for forensic specialists, police officers and judges to share ideas and difficulties as well as experiences in DNA identification studies.
Lee, who acts as chairman, said, “Although we speak different languages in our daily lives, we all speak the same ‘language’ at work, and that’s the language of the criminal investigation. We share the same goal – to speak for the dead using forensic science.”
In September, at the organisation’s third annual conference in Yantai, Shandong province, Lee announced plans to unify DNA identification standards among its members to try and build a mutual DNA database that can better solve criminal cases.
Unified standards are essential to the world of forensic science, he told China Daily.
“If we can achieve unification in China, it can be extended across Asia, to the consortium and finally the world,” he added. “It would mean a brighter future for forensic science.”
6. European Network of Forensic Institutes
Although not a country, the European Network of Forensic Institutes (ENFSI) is recognized as a pre-eminent voice in forensic science worldwide. It is a network of forensic specialists covering a broad range of fields of expertise, from 38 countries geographically spread across Europe:
Austria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
The ENFSI has seventeen Expert Working Groups working on a diverse range of forensic specialisms, from textiles and hair to explosives and firearms. It also provides invaluable training to police officers and crime scene investigators.
Police in the German state of Bavaria have the power to use forensic DNA profiling after a controversial law passed in 2018 in the Landtag, the state parliament in Munich. The law was the first in Germany to allow authorities to use DNA to help determine the physical characteristics, such as eye colour, of an unknown culprit.
The new DNA rules are part of a broader law which has drawn criticism of the wide surveillance powers it gives the state’s police to investigate people they deem an “imminent danger,” people who haven’t necessarily committed any crimes but might be planning to do so.
The move was prompted, in part, by the rape and murder of a medical student in Freiburg, Germany, in late 2016. An asylum seeker, originally from Afghanistan, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
But some authorities complained that they could have narrowed their search more quickly if they had been able to use trace DNA to predict what the suspect would look like.
Federal and state laws previously only allowed investigators to use DNA to look for an exact match between crime scene evidence and a potential culprit, either in a database of known criminals or from a suspect.
Germany also forms part of the aforementioned ENFSI.
4. South Korea
To say that smartphones have changed the digital forensic landscape is an understatement. The device has become the core of every criminal investigation and helped propel digital forensics as a serious, scientific investigation tool.
South Korea is leading the way in digital forensics, with its largest digital forensic firm, Hancom GMD, playing a crucial role in prosecuting some of the country’s most powerful politicians.
In late 2016, South Korea was rocked by one of its biggest political corruption scandals in history – its President Park Guen-hye was accused of bribery and by law, investigators only had 60 days to investigate and prosecute.
They had confiscated over 300 smartphones as from suspects and needed to analyse tens of thousands of phone records and chat messages within a tight deadline. Hancom GMD successfully analysed all of the data in the 300 smartphones and extracted crucial evidence that led to several convictions.
With 5G set to be rolled out globally this year, forensic teams in South Korea are already preparing for this further growth in the collection of digital evidence.
Hancom GMD is planning to launch a service that recovers data from the cloud, though privacy regulations in each country are expected to be a challenge to overcome.
3. United Kingdom
Prior to its closure in 2012, the UK Forensic Science Service (FSS) was a world-leader in forensic technology. It pioneered the use of the handheld breath alcohol roadside tester and the DNA national database was first worked on and initially tested on all staff and police forces to ensure its reliability.
The organisation later pioneered the use of large scale DNA profiling for forensic identification and crime detection when it moved the facilities to Birmingham.
This enabled the launch of the world’s first DNA database on 10 April 1995. The FSS’s innovative and highly sensitive DNA profiling technique called LCN (low copy number) was used in convicting Antoni Imiela (the M25 rapist).
As well as, Ronald Castree (for the murder of Lesley Molseed in 1975) but the organisation came under attack when it failed to recover blood stains from a shoe in the murder of Damilola Taylor.
Forensic laboratories in the UK are now privately-owned but are experiencing similar financial difficulties, a recent inquiry by the House of Lords heard.
Mark Pearse, the commercial director in the forensics division of Eurofins, one of the three major providers in the UK, described an “unsustainable toxic set of conditions” when he appeared before the inquiry.
Representatives from the two other largest providers – Key Forensics, which had to be bailed out by police last year after going into administration, and Cellmark – raised similar concerns.
However, that’s not to say that the UK is not involved in researching and implementing new forensic technologies.
Forensic scientists are currently working with the British military to open the United Kingdom’s first body farm — a site where researchers will be able to study the decomposition of human remains.
Details are not yet finalized, but the plans are at an advanced stage: project leaders hope this year to open the farm, also known as a forensic cemetery or taphonomy facility, after the discipline devoted to the study of decay and fossilization.
Such sites generate data on tissue and bone degradation under controlled conditions, along with chemical changes in the soil, air and water around a corpse, to help criminal and forensic investigators.
2. The Netherlands
The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) is one of the world’s leading forensic laboratories. From its state-of-the-art, purpose-built premises in The Hague, the NFI provides products and services to a wide range of national and international clients.
To ensure that their work remains at the forefront of developments, the Netherlands Forensic Institute invests heavily in Research and Development. In this way, it lays the foundations for innovative forensic methods and technologies that will play an important part in the coming decades.
Amongst these innovative forensic technologies is the invention of Hansken, a system that can store large quantities and diverse data easily from different sources. All data is stored, indexed, enriched and made rapidly searchable, cutting down the turnaround time of forensic evidence.
It now contains over 150 samples of glass from a large number cases. In several cases, this glass database has linked suspects to several crimes.
Offenders who carry out robberies, smash-and-grab raids or ARM gas attacks may have splinters of glass on their clothes or in the soles of their shoes and these splinters of glass can remain in place for months, even though they are barely visible to the naked eye, if at all.
These splinters can be of great value. The composition of each piece of glass is unique because of minuscule contaminants in the raw materials for making glass.
By comparing the unique composition of splinters of glass found on a suspect to glass from the database, it is possible to check whether that glass originates from a crime committed earlier.
The glass analysts of the NFI measure the concentration of twenty elements in each piece of glass. This produces a kind of ‘chemical fingerprint’ of the material.
1.United States of America
It will come as no surprise that at the forefront of cutting-edge forensic technology is the USA, home to over 400 crime labs and the biggest crime lab in the world, the FBI Laboratory.
To help train government and industry organisations on cyberattack prevention, as part of a research project for the U.S. Army, scientists at The University of Texas at San Antonio, have developed the first framework to score the agility of cyber attackers and defenders.
“The DOD and U.S. Army recognize that the cyber domain is as important a battlefront as ground, air and sea,” said Dr. Purush Iyer, division chief, network sciences at Army Research Office, an element of the Army Futures Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
“Being able to predict what the adversaries will likely do provides opportunities to protect and to launch countermeasures. This work is a testament to successful collaboration between academia and government.”
The framework developed by the researchers will help government and industry organizations visualize how well they out-maneuver attacks.
Their work is published in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, a top journal for cybersecurity.
Education and training programs in the field of forensics are also on the rise, supported by organisations such as The Forensic Sciences Foundation and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
In fact, there are 485 Forensic Science schools in the US, so it’s no wonder that it is the home of the some of the most influential forensic scientists, such as Dr. Michael M. Baden and Ellis R. Kerley, and is sure to produce a great deal more talent in the future.
This is certainly an exciting time to be working in forensic science, with the challenges presented by the world of AI, Smartphones and Cloud data calling for rapid improvements to existing technology.
With these challenges comes the need for those countries with more developed forensic facilities to provide training and education opportunities to those in less developed areas so that science can play its rightful part in the criminal justice system.
For now, these are among the 7 countries who have the most advanced forensic technology and it is not the end. As the world continues to evolve, so will technology and the forensic industry itself.
Hi! I’m Isabella and I’m an Italian living in the UK studying for a Masters in Crime & Justice. I currently work in the prison education sector and have a background in teaching, having completed a PGCE after reading languages at the University of Durham. I love travelling, cooking, reading and playing the piano.