Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) consultations

In August 2008, the Home Office published a further consultation on its proposals to expand police powers, including the collection of DNA. The consultation included plans to set up new "short term holding facilities" (STHFs) in shopping centres to take people's DNA and fingerprints. You can read GeneWatch's press release and consultation response here.

The proposals follow an earlier consultation on police powers, which included radical new proposals to extend the use of DNA and fingerprints, including collection on arrest for non-recordable offences. This part of the proposal has been put on hold pending the outcome of a decision by the European Court on Human Rights in the Marper case. After the judgment, the Government has promised to hold a further consultation about DNA and fingerprints.

The Home Office published a summary of responses and also summarised the comments submitted to the first consultation.

The Home Office cites the response of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) as stating that: "Extending the taking of samples to all offences may be perceived as indicative of the increasing criminalisation of the generally law-abiding citizen".

ACPO later put out a statement saying that "ACPO has real concerns about the proposals to extend the taking of DNA and fingerprints for non-recordable offences such as speeding or dropping litter".

In the consultation document, the Home Office proposed that people could be detained in detention centres in shops or town centres for up to 4 hours. In order to be detained a person would only need to be suspected of an offence such as dropping litter. They would then have their fingerprints, DNA and photograph taken without their consent. This would apply to anyone over the age of ten.

Existing police powers allow this DNA - as well as the fingerprints and photographs and any computer records - to be kept permanently, even if the individual has not committed an offence.

The proposed use of existing DNA and fingerprint databases for 'identification' is a significant change of use. Currently the main use of the National DNA Database is to search for a match between an individual's DNA profile and a DNA profile from the scene of an unsolved crime. Using the National DNA Database for identification implies that the main use would be to search for a match between an individual's DNA profile taken on the street or in a detention centre and their DNA profile stored with their name and address. This implies:

  • The DNA and fingerprint databases will have to be linked to the new National Identity Register which will include everyone's name and address (and/or to the new NHS Electronic Care Records system).
  • The databases will have to be checked on the spot (or at least within the detention period of 4 hours) to confirm that the individual's DNA profile and fingerprints match those stored on the computer with their name and address.
  • Everybody will have to have their DNA and fingerprints taken at some point, or it will not be possible to verify most people's identity.

It is not clear from the consultation whether a police officer would have to make the arrest, or whether this might be done by a Police Community Support Officer, or even someone employed by another agency.

Concerns about the proposals

The proposals in the Home Office consultation involve a massive expansion of the National DNA Database by taking DNA without consent and with negligible oversight.

There is significant potential for excessive Government surveillance and the erosion of people's privacy. For example, partial matches with DNA profiles on the National DNA Database can reveal who a person is related to (including paternity and non-paternity).

Although the consultation document states that the Home Office wants to protect the identity of witnesses and victims, in practice this will become impossible if everybody's DNA is on a database that is searched for identification purposes. Anyone who can get work in a detention centre will be able to reveal any individual's name and address by checking their DNA.

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