GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch welcomes citizens' inquiry into police use of DNA

GeneWatch welcomes citizens' inquiry into police use of DNA

GeneWatch UK today welcomed the announcement of a Citizen's inquiry into the National DNA Database, to be held by the Government's Advisory Body, the Human Genetics Commission (1). Britain's Database is the largest in the world, and DNA taken on arrest in England, Wales or Northern Ireland (but not Scotland) is kept permanently, even if the individual has not committed an offence (2). Computerised DNA profiles and police records of arrest are also now kept permanently.

"The permanent retention of records on innocent people and people convicted of minor offences is unprecedented in British history. The Commission is to be congratulated - this debate is long overdue", said Dr Helen Wallace. "Your DNA can reveal where you have been, who you are related to, and sensitive information about your health. There is a real danger of abuse by Governments, or by anyone who might infiltrate the system and obtain access to people's DNA or computer records".

Yesterday the Home Office published the results of a consultation into plans to expand the collection of DNA yet further (3). The proposals included plans to take DNA on arrest for any offence (such as dropping litter and parking offences), including from children, and retain it permanently. The consultation also proposed allowing collection of DNA outside police stations, in new "short-term holding facilities" in shops and shopping centres. Many organisations, including several police forces, opposed the controversial plans (3).

"The Home Office is losing public trust in the police use of DNA", said Dr Wallace. "DNA can play an important role in solving crimes, but keeping everybody on the Database permanently is a step too far. The recent massive expansion of the Database has not increased the crime detection rate".

The Government frequently cites DNA matches (between crime scene DNA profiles and individuals' DNA profiles stored on the Database) as evidence that the expansion of the Database has been successful. However, these include many matches with victims and innocent passers-by. Taking more DNA from crime scenes has improved the chances of solving crimes, but keeping more DNA from individuals has not. GeneWatch UK believes additional safeguards are needed to prevent misuse of the National DNA Database, including time limits on how long people's records are kept.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile)

Notes for editors:

(1) Human Genetics Commission (HGC) Press Release: Citizens' inquiry into the Forensic Use of DNA and Genetic Information. 1st August 2007.

(2) The National DNA Database now contains computerised DNA profiles from around 4 million people, 1 million of whom have not been convicted of any offence. An estimated 100,000 innocent children are on the Database, as are up to 3 out of 4 young black men (aged 15 to 34). DNA is taken on arrest for any recordable offence (including begging, being drunk and disorderly, or taking part in an illegal demonstration), without consent from anyone aged ten or above.

(3) Comments on the proposed changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) are available on:

Respondents' comments are summarised here:

They include the following (p.8) from DCC Alex Marshall (Association of Chief Police Officers): "Need for consistency in taking of biometric data. Consent should be clarified within PACE where it refers more to cooperation than consent. Extending the taking of samples to all offences may be perceived as indicative of the increasing criminalisation of the generally law-abiding citizen".

GeneWatch UK's comments and response are available on:[cid]=551990

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