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Warnings over launch of national crime database

Hackers could crack the new Police National Database and access sensitive information of millions of innocent people, human rights campaigners have warned.

The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) estimates that the system will contain personal details of up to 15 million citizens, a quarter of the UK population. Only 9.2 million Britons have criminal records.

It was launched to allow police forces across the UK to share information, enabling them to see all the intelligence immediately, identify patterns of criminal behaviour earlier and take action quicker. But critics say the controversial directory will simply present a new challenge for the emerging problem of "hacktivists" intent on bringing down government systems.

Yesterday, cyber-crime officers charged 19-year-old Ryan Cleary in connection with a web attack that brought down Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) website on Monday.

"The risk of this data falling into the hands of criminals is too horrifying to comprehend," said Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch. "But if they were able to take the Soca website offline, how are we to have any particular confidence that this database won't fall into the wrong hands?"

NPIA chief executive Nick Gargan admitted there would always be a "criminal opposition" who "make it their business to hack into and disrupt" government systems. "We have done all we can to protect [our database] but we realise the data can never be completely risk-free."

* The Government's plans to overhaul the DNA database could undermine efforts to trap rapists, Ed Miliband claimed as he clashed with David Cameron in the Commons yesterday. He challenged him to drop moves to discard 5,000 samples from suspected rapists every year. Mr Cameron said: "The police are allowed to apply to keep DNA on the computer, not something you mentioned." An aide said the Government would not back down, adding: "If you are innocent, should the state retain your DNA?"