GeneWatch and Action on Rights for Children. Joint Press Release.
Over 100,000 innocent young people now on the National DNA Database
22nd May 2007
In a briefing published today based on Home Office figures, GeneWatch UK and Action on Rights for Children calculate that the National DNA Database contains the records of at least 100,000 children and young people who have not committed any criminal offence(1). In the past year alone, more than 80,000 innocent children and young people were arrested in England and Wales and added to the database.
"Anyone with access to the DNA Database can use these childrenís DNA profiles to trace where they have been, or who they are related to", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "Do we really trust the Home Office not to misuse this information and to safeguard it from others who may want to infiltrate the system?"
Terri Dowty, Director of Action on Rights for Children said: "These are shocking statistics. These children will be on the database for the rest of their lives. This means that whenever their DNA is found at a crime scene, they will have to be prepared to justify themselves. We are turning thousands of innocent children into lifelong suspects."
DNA can be taken without consent from anyone aged ten or above, on arrest for most offences. The computerised DNA profiles and original DNA samples are kept permanently, even if the individual is never charged or is acquitted. Since 2006, all police records of arrest have been kept permanently, linked to an individualís DNA and fingerprint records. Britainís National DNA Database is now the largest in the world and around 1 million people on the computer database have not been convicted of any offence (2). England and Wales are the only countries in the world which keep DNA profiles and samples from innocent people and those convicted of minor offences for life (3). The permanent retention of records on innocent people is unprecedented in British history.
Terri Dowty said: "For the past year, we have been trying to get accurate figures from the Home Office for the number of children on the database, but now that we can see the scale of what has been going on, it might explain why they are so reluctant to supply them. It seems that all the accusations that the government is building the DNA database by stealth are fully justified."
"As the Database expands, the risk increases that it will be abused. Governments and criminals may both be tempted to use the DNA profiles it contains to track innocent people or their relatives, or reveal private information such as non-paternity", said Dr Wallace. "Security breaches can occur when the DNA is collected, at the labs that analyse it, or in the computer system. There are no legal safeguards to prevent misuse by this or future governments".
Concerns about the DNA Database include (4):
- An enormous increase in the power of governments to track an individual or their relatives using their DNA, or to reveal private information about their health.
- Significant potential for others - including organised criminals - to infiltrate the system and abuse it, for example by using it to reveal post-adoption identities, and the whereabouts of those escaping domestic violence or on witness protection schemes.
- A significant erosion of children's rights to privacy and freedom of movement.
- The labelling of young people as 'criminal' who have not committed any offence, or who have committed a one-off, minor offence.
- The implications of plans to allow law enforcement agencies in other European Union countries access to the Database or to information held on it, including the DNA profiles of innocent children.
The rapid expansion in the number of people on the Database has not increased crime detection rates and keeping computerised DNA profiles and DNA samples permanently from so many people is not a cost-effective way to tackle crime. GeneWatch UK and Action on Rights for Children believe that only those convicted of serious, violent offences should have their records kept permanently on the National DNA Database, and that stringent safeguards are needed to prevent misuse.
For further information contact:
Helen Wallace (GeneWatch UK): 01298-24300 (office); 07903-311584 (mobile).
Terri Dowty (Action on Rights for Children): 0208-558-9317 (office); 07929-607219 (mobile)
(1) The briefing "How many innocent children are being added to the National DNA Database?" is available on: www.genewatch.org .
(2) Parliamentary Question. House of Commons Hansard. 11 Dec 2006 : Column 829W.
(3) The law was also changed to allow permanent retention of DNA from everyone arrested for a recordable offence in Northern Ireland, but in practice this policy has yet to be implemented. The Scottish Parliament rejected proposals for the permanent retention of DNA from innocent people in 2006.
(4) GeneWatch UK and Action on Rights for Childrenís submissions to the Home Office inquiry "A surveillance society?", April 2007. Available on: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/GeneWatchsub0407_v2.doc and http://www.arch-ed.org/docs/FINALsubmission070424.doc