GeneWatch PR: Response to MPs' surveillance society report

GeneWatch UK today welcomed the Home Affairs Committee report 'A surveillance society?' and called for people whose DNA is being held without consent to stand up for their rights.

The report calls for a new regulatory framework for the DNA Database, the correction of inaccuracies in data, consultation to clarify the purposes and processes of DNA collection and retention, and primary legislation to allow full parliamentary scrutiny of the new framework. The Committee also concludes that a more accessible mechanism by which individuals can challenge retention of their records is needed, and the need to retain biological samples (which contain unlimited genetic information) should be reviewed.

GeneWatch UK's Director, Dr Helen Wallace, said: "The Government has embarked on a massive expansion of the DNA Database without proper public or parliamentary scrutiny or legal safeguards. Today's report creates an opportunity for people who have records on the Database to stand up for their rights."

More than a million innocent people - including about 100,000 innocent children - have had their DNA and records retained by the police following two changes to the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland made in 2001 and 2004.

"If the bad guys are on the database and the good guys can keep it safe, there isn't any problem," said Dr Wallace. "But the massive expansion of the database has given governments - and any criminal who might infiltrate the system - immense power to track potentially vulnerable individuals and their relatives".

Recent figures show that the chances of detecting a crime using DNA have not increased over the last 5 years, despite a doubling in size of the Database (1).

GeneWatch UK believes that there are important changes that could be made that would improve safeguards for human rights and privacy without compromising the role of the DNA Database in tackling crime, including reintroducing a system of time limits on how long people are kept on the Database, and destroying all individuals' DNA samples once an investigation is complete, after the computerised DNA profiles used for identification have been obtained (2).

For further information contact: Dr Helen Wallace, 07903-311584 (mobile).

Notes for editors:

(1) Figures from PQ (30 Apr 2008 : Column 489W). GeneWatch Q&A available on: . An earlier increase in crimes detected is due to a tripling in the number of crime scene DNA profiles loaded onto the Database each year (from 19,233 in 1998/99 to 65,649 in 2002/03). The Home Office admits that "Evaluation of the [DNA Expansion] Programme has shown that the number of matches obtained from the Database (and the likelihood of identifying the person who committed the crime) is 'driven' primarily by the number of crime scene profiles loaded onto the Database". Source: Home Office (2006): . GeneWatch briefing available on: .

(2) GeneWatch UK submission to the Home Affairs Committee, available on: .

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