29 March 2005: For immediate release
GeneWatch welcomed the conclusions of today's report from the Science and Technology Committee regarding the police National DNA Database (1).
'The Committee has rightly recognised the need for better safeguards to protect civil liberties, whilst keeping the benefits of using DNA in criminal investigations,' said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK.
In April 2004, new legislation allowed the police to take DNA samples from anyone arrested for all but the most minor offences and retain the samples and data indefinitely, even if the person was acquitted or never charged. As a result, the National DNA Database is expected to more than double in size to include around 5 million people. GeneWatch has warned that this new policy and new technologies increase the threats to privacy and human rights posed by the database (2).
The Committee's report includes welcome recommendations to:
- balance arguments for the retention of DNA profiles from people who are not convicted against any potential infringement of civil liberties;
- review the impact of the database on the detection and deterrence of crime;
- research public attitudes to the practice of keeping DNA samples from both convicted criminals and others;
- establish an independent body with full ethical and lay input to oversee the workings of the database;
- subject any future extensions of the uses of the database to public scrutiny;
- establish an independent regulator to provide independent and impartial advice on forensic science.
The Committee's report also expresses concerns about the lack of ethical debate or oversight of research uses of the database and the practice of ?familial searching?. The latter seeks to identify the relatives of suspects ? a practice which could inadvertently reveal cases of non-paternity.
"There is no justification for using the database or samples for genetic research without consent," said Dr Wallace. "Linking DNA profiles to ethnicity or other characteristics is controversial and unnecessary. Strict guidelines and oversight are also needed to ensure that familial searching does not unnecessarily erode the privacy of families".
Dr Helen Wallace on 01298-871898 (office) or 07903-311584 (mobile).
Notes for Editors:
- House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Forensic Science on Trial, 29 March 2005, is available on: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmsctech/96/96i.pdf .
- GeneWatch UK?s report The Police National DNA Database, January 2005, is
available on: http://www.genewatch.org/HumanGen/Publications/Reports/NationalDNADatabase.pdf