International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 272 on Forensic Sciences – New international standards under development
By Erin Forry, ASCLD, U.S. TAG Chair, and Karen Reczek, U.S. TAG Member, OSAC QIC Chair
ISO TC 272 is a Technical Committee (TC) of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that has been established to develop standards related to the delivery of forensic science services across the globe. The standards that are being developed by this group pertain to laboratories and field based forensic science service providers, organizations involved in the analysis and/or interpretation of physical evidence for the purposes of presenting conclusions to a court of law, and to those who manufacture products used in forensic science. The scope of the TC does not include general quality management standards, as such standards are developed by other committees within ISO. Standards developed under TC 272 are not designed to replace ISO 17025 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories or ISO 17020 Conformity assessment -- Requirements for the operation of various types of bodies performing inspection; instead the forensic science standards may be used in conjunction with these quality management standards, for accreditation purposes.
To date, 23 nations participate and 18 observe in the development of global forensic science standards. Each nation that participates in the in-person TC meetings represents the interests of their country’s mirror committee. Australia has served as the administrator to ISO TC 272 since its beginning in 2012.
The technical committee published its first standard in 2016 – ISO 18385 Minimizing the risk of human DNA contamination in products used to collect, store and analyze biological material for forensic purposes. This standard will ensure that DNA profiles developed from evidentiary items are not the result of DNA contamination of forensic consumables. The quality and nature of the materials, reagents, and consumables used by forensic service providers during testing must be considered as they impact the features of the physical evidence under examination. The committee develops standards directed towards manufacturers that are designed to control the production of such materials to ensure they are fit for forensic purposes. ISO TC 272 has commenced developing an additional manufacturing standard for other consumables used in forensic science.
While some countries are developing national standards, their development is not coordinated with other nations. Standard development efforts may be duplicated and if each nation follows a separate set of standards, exchange of forensic science information across borders may not be supported. Use of international standards in forensic science facilitates information sharing between international jurisdictions. Sharing forensic science information and evidence across borders may provide investigative information for crimes such as human trafficking, terrorism, and fraud among others.
ISO TC 272 is designing standards which will preserve the features of evidence that are subject to observation and to maintain the integrity of evidence through each stage of testing. TC 272 has been developing a series of forensic science standards that are to be accompanied by a vocabulary and framework document (Part 1). The first in the series is a standard that focuses on the recognition, collection, and preservation of evidence (Part 2).
ISO 21043-1 Forensic Sciences – Part 1 – Terms and definitions
ISO 21043-2 Forensic Sciences – Part 2 – Recognition, recording, collecting, transport and storage of items
At the recent TC 272 meeting in Tokyo in November 2017, the delegations in attendance debated and compromised as they worked to adjudicate comments to these documents and move Parts 1 and 2 forward into the final draft stage of the ISO standard development process. For more information, visit the Strategic Business Plan ISO/TC 272 Forensics Sciences.
The Technical Committee 272 recently formed new working groups that have been approved to develop new work items.
WG 3 - ISO 20964 Forensic Sciences – Specification for consumables used in the collection, preservation, and processing of material for forensic analysis -- Requirements for product
WG 4 – ISO 21043-3 Forensic Sciences – Part 3 – Analysis and Examination
WG 4 – ISO 21043-4 Forensic Sciences – Part 4 – Interpretation
WG 5 – ISO 21043-5 Forensic Sciences – Part 5 – Reporting
Working groups meet regularly in web-based meetings where comments and edits are discussed. The working groups will meet in-person at the next ISO TC 272 meeting in Stockholm, Sweden 28 May through 1 June 2018.
The international forensic science community may look forward to the viewing, and using, these standards in the next few years. Once published, these standards will be eligible for consideration for placement on the OSAC Registry.
The U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for which ASCLD is the Secretariat, meets regularly in-person and via teleconference to reach consensus on comments from the working drafts and to represent U.S. interests. The primary purpose of a U.S. TAG is to develop and transmit, via ANSI, U.S. positions on activities and ballots of the related international technical committee. U.S. TAG members include the following organizations:
ANAB: ANSI -ASQ (ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board)
American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) Academy Standards Board (ASB)
The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD)
Association of Forensic Quality Assurance Managers (AFQAM)
Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA)
Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA)
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)