Police told to explain use of unregulated DNA database

 

Police and intelligence services have been sending terror suspects’ DNA to counterparts around the world with no official scrutiny over their actions, a government watchdog has warned.

The National DNA Database Ethics Group has demanded an explanation as fears emerged that a little-known archive of thousands of samples, often taken without permission from innocent people during counter-terrorism operations, had been operating with “no statutory basis”.

The group has also asked ministers to detail exactly what information from the Counter Terrorism DNA database – operated by the Metropolitan Police as an “adjunct” to the national database – has been handed to foreign governments and intelligence services, and what safeguards govern how the information is used.

Civil rights campaigners warned that it appeared the police were “simply ignoring the will of Parliament”. “Why do we need this second database when we already have a framework for holding the DNA of so many people in this country in one place?” Nick Pickles, director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said.

“People will… be concerned that this is an attempt to get round the controls that Parliament has put in place over the use of DNA, to allow personal details that have never been tested in court to be shared with other countries with an implication of guilt.”

The previous government committed to exchanging information on DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registrations with seven fellow members of the European Union, under the Prüm treaty in 2005.

The counter-terrorism database contains thousands of DNA samples picked up at crime scenes or after arrests – but often taken covertly during searches of suspects’ homes. Ministers have conceded that it can include samples retrieved elsewhere – without permission – from discarded cigarettes or drinks containers, during surveillance operations or when a suspect visits the home of an informer. The ethics advisory group, set up to advise ministers on the proper use of DNA samples, recommended in its last annual report: “All databases containing DNA information including the counter-terrorism database held by the police service should be subject to a robust statutory governance framework, appropriate systems and controls, and should be transparent and only be used for statutory purposes.”

Despite attempts to allay their concerns, members subsequently complained that they were “not wholly satisfied because… the counter-terrorism database has no statutory basis”.

At a meeting in December, the group discussed a paper “raising concerns that there is no statutory footing for the counter-terrorism DNA database where profiles are held under a national security determination”.

Minutes of the meeting state that: “Questions about checks and balances are therefore not addressed. The [group] would like to know what is sent abroad, what are the safeguards, etc.”

Chris Hughes, chairman of the ethics group, has now written to the board governing the DNA database to demand an explanation of the status of the counter-terrorism DNA files.

A Home Office spokesman said that DNA profiling and matching were “vital tools in the fight against crime, as well as to combat terrorism”.

He added: “The Government has introduced new safeguards, through the Protection of Freedoms Act, to protect individuals and establish independent oversight of the use, retention and destruction of biometric material.

“This includes powers to hold DNA profiles and fingerprints for national security purposes, which will be independently overseen.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?