GeneWatch PR: Home Office drags its feet on DNA database removals (7th May 2009)

GeneWatch UK today questioned the Home Office's proposed delay in deleting innocent people's DNA profiles from the police National DNA Database, following last year's decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The Government has announced a consultation on proposals to delete innocent people's computerised DNA records and fingerprints after 12 years if they have been accused of a serious violent or sexual offence, or six years for a lesser offence (1)


"This is a long time for innocent people to wait to have their records wiped", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "DNA profiles can be used to track an individual or their relatives. Where are the weighty reasons that the European Court demanded to justify retention of this data?" 


In Scotland, only people who have been prosecuted for serious violent or sexual offences can have their DNA profiles retained after acquittal. After three years, the police must apply to a court to retain such people's DNA profiles for a further two years, if this is deemed necessary, and the individual can appeal.


GeneWatch urged people who considered their DNA records to be held unfairly to continue to contact the police to seek removal from the database, and to have their say by responding to the consultation (2). The organisation also criticised continued misinformation about the supposed benefits of the database expansion (3).


"As long as the Home Office drags its feet on Database removals, people need to stand up for their rights", said Dr Wallace. "It is unacceptable to treat everyone who is arrested as if they are a rapist or a murderer".


However, GeneWatch welcomed Home Office plans to destroy the spare DNA samples which are usually taken by the police from arrested people using a mouth swab. One of the samples is analysed to produce the string of numbers known as a DNA profile that is stored on the computer database. But until now, a second spare sample has been stored indefinitely by the commercial laboratories that analyse DNA for the police. The samples are not needed for identification purposes and are already destroyed in some countries, such as Germany.


"DNA samples contain unlimited genetic information, including some sensitive personal information about people's health. We strongly welcome the proposal to destroy the samples to prevent misuse", said Dr Wallace.


In 2006, GeneWatch revealed that stored DNA samples had been used for genetic research without the consent of the individuals involved, including controversial research to try to predict ethnicity from DNA (4). There is a strong racial bias in the database, which is estimated to contain DNA profiles from more than a third of the black male population, rising to 3 out of 4 young black men (aged between 15 and 34).


For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, Mobile: 07903-311584


Notes for Editors:

(1)   The Home Office consultation 'Keeping the right people on the DNA database' was launched today by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. In the S. and Marper case, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK Government was acting unlawfully by retaining the DNA profiles, samples and fingerprints of innocent people indefinitely. The judgment noted that: "Weighty reasons would have to be put forward by the Government before the Court could regard as justified such a difference in treatment of the applicants' private data compared to that of other unconvicted people".

(2)   The website was launched on 27th April by GeneWatch UK, NO2ID and the Open Rights Group. It is also supported by Action on Rights for Children (ARCH), Black Mental Health UK, Liberty and Privacy International.

(3)   The Home Office cites many examples where DNA has been useful in investigating crimes, but these examples are mostly misleading because they do not rely on retaining DNA profiles from innocent people. The number of crimes detected using DNA has not increased despite the database more than doubling in size. With more than 5 million records, Britain's DNA database is by far the largest in Europe, yet Britain has one of the lowest conviction rates for rape. The DNA database is not used or needed to exonerate innocent people, who carry their DNA with them at all times.

(4)   More information is available on:


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