UK proposes changes to national DNA database to remove innocent people

UK proposes changes to national DNA database to remove innocent people

[JURIST] The UK Home Office [official website] on Thursday released new proposals [press release] for a controversial DNA database [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that would remove the DNA information of innocent people. The Home Office said that DNA information could still remain in the database [official website] for six to 12 years in cases of "serious violent or sexual crimes." The new proposals are in response to a December ruling [judgment text] 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. UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] said:

It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. The DNA database plays a vital role in helping us do that and will help ensure that a great many criminals are behind bars where they belong. …

We will ensure that the most serious offenders are added to the database no matter when or where they were convicted. We also know that the database has provided matches for a significant number of serious crimes as well as providing thousands of matches for less serious crimes that cause great concern to victims, such as burglary, which is why we are proposing to keep some profiles for six years.

Civil rights groups have criticized [BBC report] the new proposals, claiming they do not go far enough to comply with the ECHR ruling. Director of GeneWatch UK [advocacy website] Dr. Helen Wallace said, "[t]his is a long time for innocent people to wait to have their records wiped."

In November, 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. That decision, along with the human rights court ruling, came just months after a proponent of the database called for it to be expanded [JURIST report] to include all citizens and visitors of the country. The Home Office has denied [JURIST report] any plans to create such a database.