Leading article: A victory for civil liberties – but the larger war still rages

The police DNA databse is just one of the assaults on our freedom

Share
Related Topics

The Government's illiberal juggernaut smashed into a brick wall yesterday. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled, in a unanimous judgment, that South Yorkshire Police's retention of the DNA of two men who had committed no crime was not only a breach of their civil liberties, but also fundamentally undemocratic.

The implications of this judgment will resound across Britain. The 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act permitted the police to take and retain DNA samples from anyone they arrested, regardless of whether their target was eventually charged or convicted of a crime. It is not a power the police have been shy in exercising. The national DNA database now contains the details of 4.5 million people, making it the largest of its kind in the world. A fifth of those included do not have criminal records. The Strasbourg judgment means that some 850,000 records will have to be wiped.

The court also noted yesterday that it was, "struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention in England and Wales". This is an indictment, not only of the Government, but Parliament which passed the legislation giving the police these sweeping powers. Our MPs and peers were asleep on the job when they allowed this wretched piece of legislation through.

The Government, naturally, is showing no signs of contrition. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, yesterday remarked that she was "disappointed" at the Strasbourg ruling, arguing that, "DNA and fingerprinting is vital to the fight against crime, providing the police with more than 3,500 matches a month". This response reeks of intellectual dishonesty. The critics of the present law have not called for the destruction of the DNA database, merely the wiping of the samples of innocent people. This is what happens in Scotland. There is no earthly reason it should not be the case across the rest of Britain too.

It does not take any great insight to discover the Government's real agenda. Ministers have claimed in the past that DNA profiles from those not charged or convicted are sometimes linked to later offences; that the bigger the database the more chance of catching criminals. But by this logic, the Government ought to be asking the entire population to submit DNA samples to their local police station. They know this would never be acceptable to the country, so they are instead growing the database by stealth. Thankfully, the European court has called time on this underhand project.

Yet this is simply one victory in a much larger war against a Government which refuses to recognise the limits of the state's role in our private lives. Ministers show no sign of relenting in their efforts to foist costly and intrusive ID cards on us. The Immigration and Citizenship Bill in the Queen's Speech this week would allow state officials the power to demand proof of identity from the public on a whim. And then there are proposals in the new Coroners and Justice Bill to give public bodies the unrestricted ability to transfer our personal information between themselves.

This Government has proved itself again and again to lack any understanding of either the acceptable boundaries of official intervention in our personal lives or the overwhelming necessity to safeguard the public's private data. With yesterday's judgment the juggernaut has been slowed, but not stopped. The campaign to protect our civil liberties goes on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas