GeneWatch UK, Action on Rights for Children, Privacy International
4th December 2008
In a landmark decision made today, European judges backed the rights of about a million innocent people, including tens of thousands of innocent children, who have had their DNA kept indefinitely by the police (1).
The court ruled that the Government had failed to justify the indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA samples and records on the National DNA Database (2).
The decision - which will affect people aged ten or above who have been acquitted or had charges dropped following arrest in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - was welcomed by campaign groups involved in the case.
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK, said: "The massive, uncontrolled expansion of Britain's DNA database has given governments - and any criminal who might infiltrate the system - immense power to track potentially vulnerable individuals and their relatives. Today's landmark decision vindicates all those innocent people who have struggled to get their DNA destroyed. It means that there must be strict new rules to limit DNA retention and prevent misuse."
Terri Dowty, Director of Action on Rights for Children said: "The court's decision is a welcome wake-up call for Government. New legislation must give a high priority to children's privacy and rights".
Simon Davies, Director of Privacy International, said: "The UK government has already stretched the limits of what should be permissible in a free society. Over the past decade, by deception and stealth, legislation and practice has allowed the collection and use of DNA in ways that would be entirely unacceptable in most democracies. The systematic exploitation of DNA data of innocent people has been an indictment of Britain and a damning indication of the government's scant regard to human rights. No wonder Britain is consistently ranked as the democratic world's leading surveillance society".
The judgement vindicates the decision made by Scotland in 2006, when moves to retain the DNA of innocent people indefinitely were rejected by the Scottish Parliament because of the threat to civil liberties and the lack of evidence of benefit.
The judgement also supports the views of the Human Genetics Commission's Citizens' Inquiry, published in July, which was highly critical of the expansion of the database.
Following the judgment, the Government is already committed to holding a consultation on the provisions for taking and retaining DNA and fingerprints under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
"It is now up to the British people to stand up for their rights and demand strict rules to limit DNA retention", said Dr Wallace.
Home Office figures show that keeping DNA indefinitely from innocent people has not helped to solve more crimes (3).For further information, contact:
Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK. Office: 01298-24300; Mobile: 07903-311584.
Terri Dowty, Action on Rights for Children (ARCH). Office: 020-8558-9317.
Simon Davies, Privacy International. Mobile: 07958-466552.
Notes for Editors
(1) Up-to-date facts and figures are available on the GeneWatch UK website at: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539481 .
The Government admits that more than 850,000 unconvicted people, including at least 39,000 under-18 year-olds have record on the National DNA Database. GeneWatch UK and Action on Rights for Children believe these figures are an under-estimate.
(2) The case, S. and Marper v. the United Kingdom was brought by Howells solicitors, with barristers from Brick Court and Doughty Street Chambers. Background information is available on: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-563146 .
(3) See the facts and figures at: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539481 .
Since 2002/03, the number of individuals with DNA profiles on the Database has more than doubled from 2 million to over 4.5 million, but there has been no corresponding increase in the number of crimes detected. The percentage of recorded crimes which involve a DNA detection has remained roughly constant at 0.36%.