Government does double u-turn on DNA database

The government seems to have performed what looks to be a double U-Turn when it comes to the DNA database.

Privacy groups this morning kicked off about what looked to be the first backtrack when it came to the controversial database. Home Office minister James Brokenshire wrote a letter to MPs confirming  that the DNA profiles of those arrested, but never charged or found guilty of a crime would be retained by forensic science laboratories in an anonymised form.  This was a U-turn from previous promises that these records would be completely deleted.

It is thought that under this new rule, the DNA of more than one million innocent people would not be wiped from police records.

According to privacy group Big Brother Watch, the admission broke the Coalition commitment to delete all innocent profiles, apart from those accused of violent or sex crimes, from police databases.

Maria Fort, research director at the organisation, told TechEye: “This decision represents a shameful about-face from statements made by both the Prime Minister and his deputy.

“Despite promising that DNA samples would be destroyed, forensic science laboratories will still be able to retain the DNA profile record.”

She said that this meant it would still be possible to make identifications based on the barcode associated with each profile.

 “The Government claims that in some cases these DNA profiles cannot be deleted without also affecting those of convicted offenders.

 “This weak reasoning shows a distinct lack of concern for Coalition promises and for the innocent despite repeated words by the Prime Minister last week that this country maintains the value of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.”

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

However, it looks like the government has now performed another U-turn. When we contacted the Home Office to see what it had to say, we were told that profiles would be completely deleted from the national DNA database.

A spokesman said: “Our position has not changed at all. We will retain the DNA of the guilty, not the innocent.

“That means DNA records of the innocent will come off the database and physical samples will be deleted.”

However, Big Brother Watch isn’t convinced, with Ms Fort claiming that the latest statement from the Home Office is “in fact a backtrack.”

She told TechEye: “ Despite deleting the actual DNA samples of the innocent the electronic profiles are retained, merely anonymising the samples, not destroying or deleting them.  This is a technicality allowing the government to use loose language to claim they are not breaking any promises.  It is also in direct conflict with statements made before and after the election by coalition Party Leaders.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office said: ““The Information Commissioner welcomed the more proportionate approach to the retention of unconvicted individuals’ biometric data proposed in the Protection of Freedoms Bill as introduced to Parliament in February. The Information Commissioner’s evidence on the Protection of Freedoms Bill makes clear that the deletion of all DNA profile should be the norm and retention in an anonymised form the exception. In these circumstances there must be no practical way of linking back to an individual. Anything that falls short of this in practice would be unacceptable.”

We went back to the Home Office to see what it had to say but at the time of going to press it had not responded. The