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UK government announces proposal to remove innocent people from DNA database

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] on Wednesday unveiled [press release] its plans for the retention of DNA profiles [JURIST news archive] in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The new proposals limit the amount of time DNA and fingerprint records of innocent people can be retained on the national database [official website]. Under the proposed measures, the profiles of all adults and 16- and 17-year-olds arrested but not convicted cannot be retained for more than six years. All other juveniles arrested but not convicted of any offense will have their profiles retained for three years, regardless of their age at the time of their arrest. The proposals maintain the ability to indefinitely hold DNA profiles of all convicted adults, juveniles convicted of serious offenses, and terror suspects whose profiles could be retained indefinitely, even if they are found not guilty, through a case-by-case review on national security grounds. In a statement [text, PDF], UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson [official profile] said he believes the proposals balance the public's concerns with the legitimate operational needs of the police:

The UK has been at the forefront of using DNA in the detection of crime for many years, and it has played a key role in the conviction of numerous individuals for the most serious of crimes over the years. The Government is determined that DNA and fingerprints should continue to play a key role in public protection and the prevention and detection of crime.

Johnson said that he plans to introduce the measures before Parliament as soon as possible. Civil Rights groups that believe the amendments still do not fully protect innocent people have criticized the new proposals. The Director of Liberty [advocacy website] Shami Chakrabarti said, "[i]t seems the Government still refuses to separate the innocent and the guilty and maintains a blanket approach to DNA retention."

The amended plans are the product of consideration taken from more than 500 public responses to the original proposals released [JURIST report] by the Home Office in May. The proposals are in response to a December ruling by the European Court of Human Rights [official website] that the British practice of keeping the fingerprints and DNA profiles of people arrested but not convicted of crimes was against privacy rights [JURIST report] and should not continue. Last year, the House of Lords ruled that the DNA database rules needed to be amended [Register report] to allow those not convicted to have their profiles deleted.

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