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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Whose DNA is driving this coalition?

It is always difficult to establish the exact truth of what is going on in Government from early newspaper reports, but if this Daily Telegraph article is correct then Nick Clegg may be in for a rough ride at the Liberal Democrat Conference in September.

The paper says that the DNA of more than one million innocent people will not be wiped from police records despite a clear Coalition Agreement commitment to delete all innocent profiles, apart from those accused of violent or sex crimes, from police databases. Instead the police will retain DNA profiles in anonymised form, leaving open the possibility of connecting them up with people's names:

Currently, in England and Wales, the DNA profiles of everyone arrested for a recordable offence are retained by the police, regardless of whether they were charged or convicted.

This has meant that the police’s national DNA database holds more than five million profiles, including one million people with no criminal conviction.

Experts say storing the DNA of innocent people gave them an unfair “presumption of guilt” in the eyes of the police.

The Coalition agreement last May said the Government would “adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database”.

DNA samples from innocent people would be deleted, apart from those accused of a sexual or violent offences, which would be held for five years.

However, Home Office minister James Brokenshire admitted to MPs on a committee which is considering the legislation that police forces will retain innocent profiles.

Mr Brokenshire said he had won agreement from the information watchdog that the DNA profiles could be retained by forensic science laboratories.

This would mean that the profiles would “be considered to have been deleted (even though the DNA profile record, minus the identification information, will still exist)”.

However Mr Brokenshire admitted that it would be still be possible to identify the anonymised profiles.

A Home Office spokesman has insisted that profiles will be completely deleted from the national DNA database. However, as the paper points out, within individual police systems, profiles are recorded in batches and it is not possible to delete one without affecting the rest, including convicted offenders.

The spokesman may be saying that the Government position has not changed and that they will retain the DNA of the guilty, not the innocent but from where everybody else sits that does not look to be the case. Either the Government needs to give us more detail as a credible reassurance or else they should rethink and keep the original promise.


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