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Scrap retention of innocent people's DNA

10 October 2011

By Dr Mary Yarwood

Appeared in BioNews 628

Plans to introduce broad powers to allow police to retain the DNA of innocent people should be abandoned, the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has said.

Under the proposed Protection of Freedoms Bill, DNA information obtained from suspects not cautioned or convicted will be kept and destroyed after five years. According to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, this would remove the names of nearly one million innocent people from the UK DNA database. The Bill, however allows police to retain DNA information of those not convicted of any crime, in order to protect national security.

In its report on the Bill, the JCHR stated that these powers 'create a broad catch-all discretion for police to authorise the retention of material indefinitely for reasons of national security'.

'We are concerned that the minister has not provided a justification of why this power is necessary and proportionate, particularly, in light of specific measures targeted towards retention to counter-terrorism and immigration', the report said. 'Without further justification or additional safeguards, these measures should be removed from the Bill'.

The Home Office justified the stance the Government has taken, stating that national security is 'the first duty of any government'.

'Where DNA needs to be retained on national security grounds it will have to be approved by the independent Biometric Commissioner, which will provide a strong safeguard', a spokesperson for the Home Office said.

'The last Government kept the DNA of innocent people but didn’t even bother taking it from prisoners. We’re going to take samples from the guilty and get rid of them when people have done nothing wrong'.

Currently, all DNA samples taken from suspects in England and Wales are kept indefinitely, even if a person is innocent. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2008 that this amounted to a disproportionate interference with the individual's right to privacy. The Government introduced the Bill to comply with this ruling. Under the new Bill, which is going through its final stages in the House of Commons, DNA information collected from people convicted or cautioned following an offence will still be kept indefinitely.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Call to scrap DNA retention measure
Press Association | 07 October 2011
 
European Court of Human Rights | 04 December 2008
 
Independent | 07 October 2011
 
UK Parliament | 
 
Telegraph | 07 October 2011
 

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