Tuesday 26 July 2011

DNA - Do Not About-turn

Just over a month ago at PMQs, Ed Miliband tried to bounce David Cameron into a u-turn over plans to end the routine retention of DNA samples given by those who are arrested but not charged with rape and other related offences.

At the time it was heartening to see Cameron refuse to back down on that front. From the outset, I should make clear that I don't think the Government's policy as it stood a month ago goes far enough to protect basic freedoms: those charged but never convicted will still have DNA routinely kept on file and those arrested but not charged can, on application have samples retained. My own position is pretty much exactly as stated in the Lib Dem Manifesto:
"Remove innocent people from the police DNA database and stop storing DNA from innocent people and children in the future, too." Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010 p94

I recognise that the Coalition's position on this was more nuanced, stating:
"We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database." Coalition Agreement 2010 p11

And for the sake of completeness, the Conservative Manifesto said of DNA retention:
"The indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA is unacceptable, yet DNA data provides a  useful tool for solving crimes. We will legislate to make sure that our DNA database is used  primarily to store information about those who are guilty of committing crimes rather than those  who are innocent. We will collect the DNA of all existing prisoners, those under state supervision who have been convicted of an offence, and anyone convicted of a serious recordable offence. We pushed the Government to end the permanent retention of innocent people’s DNA , and we  will change the guidance to give people on the database who have been wrongly accused of a  minor crime an automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn." Conservative Party Manifesto 2010 p80

For those who are unfamiliar with the Scottish system, anyone who is found innocent of any crime in relation to which they have given a DNA sample has it removed from the database (unless specifically challenged) after 3 years. The position in the rest of the UK is different; the limit is 6 years and was introduced under the Labour Government. Last year the Scottish Labour party's Holyrood delegation attempted to amend the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, but the SNP, Lib Dems and Tories(!) told them where to go.

My concerns today arise with news that whilst DNA samples of innocent persons will no longer be stored on the centralised national database, they will be retained by some local forensic labs. Whilst I can appreciate that there may be practical difficulties in ensuring the total destruction of innocent persons' DNA data, I have huge misgivings about this. It is inconceivable that particular samples cannot be linked to individuals even if they're being held locally rather than nationally, and that's simply unacceptable if those people have never been convicted of any serious offence.

If the government proceeds on that basis, it's a cop-out. My message to Clegg, Cameron, May and Clarke is this: ignore Ed Miliband; stand-up for freedoms and Do Not About-turn on your Coalition agreement with this miserable little compromise.

Don't let the state turn you
into a binary series

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