DNA database threatens civil rights in health care

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Tether has secured a House of Commons debate on the impact of the proposed National DNA Database, which takes place today. It has been welcomed by human rights, mental health and church groups.

The campaigning organisation Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK) says that it is especially concerned about the likely discriminatory impact of such a database on black and ethnic minority people.

With African Caribbean persons routinely entering mental health facilities via the police and criminal justice system, BMH UK is calling for the removal of thousands of black patients whose names have been added to the database during the process of securing mental health care.

The National DNA Database adjournment debate will come before parliament on Friday 29 February 2008 at around 2.30pm.

The government’s own figures suggest that 77% of young black men will soon have their details held on the database, despite evidence that black people are actually no more likely to have committed a crime than white people, says BMH UK.

The UK has the largest National DNA Database in the world, with 4.5 million profiles set to be held by the government by 2010. There are currently 500,000 people on the database who have no current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand.

Black Mental Health says that the misapplication of data could lead to innocent people being condemned in the future. A spokesperson declared: “The public have no way of knowing how secure this information is. What if someone steals your DNA? … Losing child benefit details is one thing, but a person’s DNA is part of who they are. This is another hostile move against personal freedom and civil liberties.”

“When people who need help are taken in by the police we find that they are very quick to take a swab rather than ensure the well-being of the person,” commented the Rev Paul Grey of the New Testament Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination.

“It is disturbing to know that those needing health care are on a criminal database. Wherever this is the case, it is imperative that their details are removed as quickly as possible. What kind of a society criminalises those who need help?” asked Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK.

“The over-representation of black people on the government’s database should horrify anyone who cares about justice and fair play. There is a real danger that the DNA database just reinforces the myth that black people are more likely to commit crime, and that is a very dangerous untruth. The truth is, if you are black, you are no more likely to commit crime and more likely to be a victim of crime,” Sarah Teather, MP for Brent East, added.