Leading article: We remain suspects in the eyes of this Government

The retreat on the DNA database is welcome, but not sufficient

Share
Related Topics

Forensic science has been a boon to the criminal justice system. In the past two decades the police DNA database has helped to secure convictions of those who have perpetrated some truly heinous crimes. But the technology's benefits should not be overstated. Fewer than one per cent of all recorded crimes have been solved with the help of the database. And the advances of this technology also raise some difficult questions about privacy and the proper limits of the state.

A person's DNA profile is, by its very nature, personal to them. Once the police or security services have stored someone's DNA they have an indefinite record of that person's very biological identity. There is, thus, a balance to be struck between the collective benefits that flow from the state storing such information and the public's right to keep it private.

It is clear what a proportionate DNA storage system would look like, bearing in mind these tensions. The police would be permitted to retain the DNA of adults convicted of a crime. The price of a person's criminal record would be the forfeiting of this aspect of their privacy. Meanwhile, those who are arrested and subsequently acquitted would have their DNA wiped from the database. And children convicted of a crime should have their DNA records wiped at the age of 18 in order to avoid making them criminal suspects for the rest of their lives. Such a regime would harness the benefits of DNA technology for society, while limiting its impact on individual privacy.

Yet this bears little resemblance to the regime that the Government and the police have set about building in recent years. Under legislation passed in 2004, everyone arrested for a recordable offence is required to submit a DNA sample. And this sample is retained by the police whether or not the individual is subsequently convicted. The result is that DNA profiles of hundreds of thousands of people who have committed no crime are stored on the database alongside those of the guilty.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the retention of the DNA of those with no conviction breached their right to privacy. And so yesterday the Government announced plans to wipe the records of the innocent from the database - but only six years after their arrest. And ministers still intend to retain indefinitely the DNA records of those arrested for terrorist offences, regardless of whether or not they are convicted.

So what we have here is a forced retreat by the Government under pressure from the law. Ministers and the police still refuse to acknowledge that DNA information belongs first and foremost to the private individual and that only in special circumstances should it be appropriated by the state. As far as the Government is concerned, our DNA remains essentially public property. And the general population are not seen as innocent until proven guilty, but as a vast pool of potential suspects.

It would be foolish not to acknowledge that yesterday's proposals represent an improvement. But we should be under no illusions that this move represents a dawning of understanding among ministers over the proper limits of state intrusion into our private lives. Until the DNA database becomes a tightly controlled and ancillary tool in the armoury of the police, rather than the present sprawling and illiberal project, the pressure must continue for it to be cut down to size.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee