Millions of innocent people will have their DNA profiles stored for up to 12 years

The Times
07.05.2009
By Richard Ford, Home Correspondent

The DNA profiles of people released without charge or found not guilty by a court could be stored for up to 12 years on a national police database.

The proposal, announced by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is in response to a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that criticised the Government for keeping genetic records of innocent people.

Opponents accused ministers of defying the spirit of the court’s decision by drawing a distinction between DNA samples, which will be destroyed, and the genetic profiles they generate.

The judgment last year ruled that the indefinite storage of samples, profiles and fingerprints of everyone arrested was unlawful.

The judge said that retaining all data indefinitely, even from those acquitted of crimes, was “blanket and indiscriminate”. Campaigners assumed that the Government would be forced to destroy the DNA records of all innocent people as a result.

DNA samples, usually the mouth swabs […] stored in refrigerators, will no longer be retained by police and an estimated 500,000 currently on the database will be destroyed over the next two years at a cost of £58.6 million.

Ms Smith’s plan means that the DNA profiles of many of the same people would still be stored for years.

An adult arrested or accused, but not convicted, over a serious violent, sexual offence or terrorism-related crime would have their profile on the database for 12 years.

In cases involving lesser imprisonable offences, DNA will be kept for six years.

The civil rights group Liberty gave warning of further court action against the Government. Shami Chakrabarti, its director, said: “This well-spun proposal proves that the Home Secretary has yet to learn about the presumption of innocence and value of personal privacy in Britain.

“Wholly innocent people — including children — will have their most intimate details stockpiled”

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Once again, the Home Office is fighting an undignified rearguard action designed to give as little as possible in response to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

Today’s announcement is nowhere near good enough. Jacqui Smith must not be allowed to get away with anything short of immediately removing all innocent people from the database, except those accused of a violent or sexual offence.”

Profiles taken from individuals volunteering their DNA as part of large inquiries will no longer be stored.

After growing concern at the storage of DNA profiles of children, the Government has already removed those of children under 10 and will no longer retain them in future.

The Government is to change the law to allow police to track down almost 30,000 criminals who committed serious sexual or violent crimes before the database was built so that their profiles can be taken.

The proposed changes are different from the system operating in Scotland where the DNA of people charged with violent or sexual offence but then acquitted can be held only for three years followed by a further two with the consent of the courts.

Full article

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