Leading article: DNA: a data disgrace

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The Coalition's pledge to reverse Labour's incursions into civil liberties has suddenly shed a significant amount of credibility. The Government had said that it will remove the DNA profiles of one million innocent people from police computers. But now the Home Office minister James Brokenshire has revealed that these profiles will be retained by forensic science laboratories. The retained samples will be anonymised. But, as has been pointed out, they will still have barcodes on them, which would enable the authorities, in theory, to link them back to individuals.

The danger here is obvious. This particular government might have no such malign intentions. But there is no guarantee that a future administration will be so respectful of the public's privacy in this respect. This potential for abuse motivated the campaign for these samples to be destroyed in the first place. The Government has indicated that destroying the DNA of the innocent would be impossible because the records are mixed up in batches alongside the DNA of the guilty. That needs to be thoroughly probed. The Government's reputation as an upholder of civil liberties could depend on its accuracy.

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