DNA Databases: How your liberty is being eroded

A guest editor makes a post on the blog. If you have any interest in how your DNA profiles may be used and kept by the police even if you were arrested and released, then you should read this:

The National DNA Database® is an effective and useful crime-fighting tool. There are many statistics flying about to tell you this, I won’t bore you with them. You want to hear one? OK – if a DNA samples is left at the scene of a crime it increases the chance of detection 23% to 43%. On vehicle theft it increases the chance from 6% to 54%. That’s enough. Oh, and the database currently contains about 3.5% of our population..

In recent years the Home Office has introduced legislation through the ‘back door’ to widen the net on what type of ‘offenders’ can have their sample taken. At the moment (since the Criminal Justice Act 2003) that includes anyone suspected, charged with, about to be reported for, or convicted of committing a recordable offence. A recordable offence is one that could, if convicted for, end up with a prison sentence. What annoys me is that this widening of the floodgates seems only to reach the goal No. 10 issued back in 2000—that the whole of the UK’s active criminal population be included on the database by 2004. But anyway, it’s a serious attempt to combat crime. Let’s ignore the fact that only 1% of the scenes of recordable crimes yield a searchable DNA profile.

So, everyone pushed forward the plans to get a DNA sample from virtually any person arrested (yes, they said that). They even made it so it can be done without consent, and they’re allowed to use the necessary force. I bet having either five of your hairs plucked out by the root or a mouth swab taken by someone not medically qualified (that’s not a requirement either) would be nice. You know; they re-classified the mouth from an intimate place to go searching for evidence to a non-intimate place in 1994, just before the DNA database was set up in 1995.

Where was I going? Oh yes. The samples. So, this first sample has been taken from you – it’s called a criminal justice sample (CJ sample). This gets DNA profiled, resulting in a kind-of barcode, a string of numbers looking at ten parts of your DNA which are highly variable from person to person and it catalogues your sex. A man playing lady? Your game is up… These numbers get entered on the big criminal justice DNA database in the sky where they get searched against the crime scene DNA Database every night just before dinner. Sometimes they even search to see if it’s possible anyone in your family committed a crime too (they’ll have quite a few of these numbers the same as you), with another technique called partial DNA searching.

What happens to the sample afterwards? They’re stored in a big freezer. Why? For two reasons: in case another profiling system comes along, or some quality assurance testing needs to take place. It will, most likely, never be tested again as if there is a match between you and the crime scene, they will have to bring you in again and get a second sample which will produce evidence which can be used in a Court of Law. The CJ sample is for intelligence only, and will remain, with information identifying you, in the big freezer indefinitely.

So, the profiles are searched every night, the samples are stored for no real reason. Can I tell you one last thing? If you are found innocent, acquitted or have served your time, both your profile and sample will stay on the Database for life (or if you accidentally sign the wrong colour consent form, I’ve heard about it happening). It will never be removed, you are treated forever as suspect, and discriminated against thus.

And the best of it is this could also feasibly down to a big cock-up back in the early days which didn’t provide an easy enough system for removing profiles or samples – result, let’s legislate to keep them on!

What can the DNA in your sample say about you? If it’s a crime scene sample, for example, they can run an ‘ethnic origin’ check, a ‘possible surname’ check (if you’re a man), and a ‘red hair prediction’ check. They are beavering away to find other useful things to find out about you, and let me quote : ‘It is anticipated that information generated by the Human Genome Project will promote advances in the identification of genes that encode further human physical characteristics such as eye/skin colour and facial structure’. That is only research that the Police are doing to help their enquiries. They have also been using your samples to do some of this research…

Research conducted in other institutions looks into social and behavioural characteristics (is violence in your genes? May you be a smoker?) and medical problems (are you fat? How tall are you?). Could it be a matter of time before they check samples they hold to see if an individual is likely to commit an offence?

The DNA profiles held on innocent people have contributed to detecting over 6000 crimes upto March 2004. What have the DNA samples of innocent people done? Nothing. But they remain, a potential test away, an invasion of your privacy without you knowing and without your consent, for the purposes of prevention of crime. A net which is especially these days, being thrown wider and wider.

Do we not now have a right to privacy in human rights law? Do we not yield to the European Court of Human Rights as the highest Court in the land? In reality, the power of such a Court to step and dictate an individual country’s crime reduction strategy is very, very limited. On matters of national security, it is down to the nation.

Besides, in a recent case against the South Yorkshire Police, R v. S and Marper, that reached the House of Lords (22 July 2004), it was unanimously voted that our law was in-keeping with the European Convention of Human Rights. Only one Lord, the Baroness Hale of Richmond, even thought that the taking, storing, using and deriving information from samples interfered with the right to privacy.

This right to privacy in this human rights law, as far as it refers to national crime prevention strategy in any case, contains a handy exemption, which is – it’s all bad unless it is necessary for the prevention of disorder or crime. As all the Lords said – of course this practice of keeping samples and profiles of innocent people is necessary to prevent crime!!! See the stats!!!

In my humble opinion, I can see to some degree the argument behind keeping the profiles of innocent people (let us call this the 6000 crimes argument), but the argument for keeping the samples, something that can give so much information about a person, and for no justifiable reason? I cannot see the argument for that.

And yesterday, a well-respected judge in the field of Civil Liberties was reported as saying that maybe we should consider a DNA database which contains every person in the UK. This suggestion does not need an outcry, or us to let loose a huge pack of dogs on his arse, he still stands up for Civil Liberties by saying ‘and let us all be equal’. For he perceived the discrimination that the keeping of profiles and samples of innocent people entails, and he is prepared to give his sample to make those people less discriminated against. If we are all in the same boat, where is the discrimination?

I, for one, do not want my DNA profile anywhere near the database and neither do most people I speak to, even the Police who were asked to donate their profiles to their own database for crime scene elimination purposes said not likely. Reason? Those paternity people will hunt me down and make me pay… (Note: Are the Police really that randy?)

Can we reverse laws? Can we stop this tide? Can we stop their plans for covert DNA sampling of suspects which could lead to people being on the DNA database for life and not even knowing it? Perhaps, but only with a big enough public outcry. Are you worried?

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