DNA database ‘criminalises’ the innocent

By Andrea-Marie Vassou | The DNA profiles of people who have committed no crime should be removed from the national DNA database (NDNAD), a report has said.

The Citizens’ Inquiry report, overseen by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), also said that the length of time that the DNA of people who have committed an offence should remain on the database “should be proportionate to their offence”; however, for children aged between 7 and 17 years old, the maximum should be five years, it concluded.

The HGC said: “Currently no distinction is made between someone who has been arrested for breach of the peace and someone who has murdered somebody.”

During the four-month inquiry the HGC found that the database contained the details of four million people. However, it is believed that up to a million of these have never committed a crime; this includes the profiles of 100,000 children. The HGC said this “criminalised” people.

It also urged ministers to take control of the database away from the police and the Home Office.

Before 2001, the police could take DNA samples during criminal investigations, but had to destroy the records if the person was acquitted or charges were not brought.

But the law was changed in 2001 to remove this requirement, and then again in 2004 so that DNA samples could be taken from anyone arrested for a recordable offence and detained in a police station.

Innocent people who volunteer to give a DNA sample during a police inquiry also have their details kept on record.

The HGC now wants an independent body set up to control the information claiming, “past actions and hidden agendas have shown that the Government cannot be trusted”.

Genewatch UK, an independent not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies, agreed with the recommendations.

It warned that as the DNA database got bigger, the number of false matches was expected to increase.

Dr Helen Wallace, director for the charity, said: “Keeping people’s DNA indefinitely allows the Government unprecedented powers to implement surveillance on ordinary citizens and their relatives.”

However, the Home Office described the database as a “key police intelligence tool” and said that there were “obvious reasons for detaining the samples”.

A representative for the department said: “The benefits of NDNAD lie not only in detecting the guilty but also in eliminating the innocent.”

She said that, in 2006 to 2007, 41,717 crimes were solved using NDNAD sample matches. These included 452 homicides, 644 rapes, 222 other sex offences, nearly 1,900 violent crimes and more than 8,500 domestic burglaries.

“The database will also build public confidence as elusive offenders will be more easily detected and brought to justice,” she added.

Genewatch said this was not the case. “DNA evidence is not foolproof,” said Dr Wallace.