UK to hold DNA of innocent people for 6 years

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 2:02 PM

Britain said Wednesday it plans to get rid of DNA profiles of most innocent people after six years in response to a European Court ruling that said keeping the information indefinitely was a violation of human rights.

The DNA of terror suspects could still be held indefinitely, even if they are not charged with terrorist offenses.

Britain has one of the largest DNA databases in the world, with profiles of over 5 million people, or 8 percent of the population.

Police currently have the power to take DNA or fingerprints from anyone at the point of arrest and keep the information indefinitely _ much longer than in many other countries.

"I believe the proposals I am announcing today represent the most proportionate approach to DNA retention," said Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Home Office said it proposed to remove the DNA profiles of most adults arrested but not charged or convicted of any recordable offense after six years.

The proposals came after the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last year that keeping the genetic information of innocent people indefinitely was a violation of the right to privacy. The protection is guaranteed under the Human Rights Convention, which Britain has signed.

That case originated when British police refused to destroy DNA samples of two Britons whose criminal cases were dropped.

More than 1 million DNA samples have come from people who were never charged with a crime or were acquitted. Many of the samples were taken from juveniles.

Human rights groups criticized the government's proposals, arguing that it violated the spirit of the court's ruling.

Liberty, a civil rights group, said retaining the DNA of innocent people for six years was unacceptable. The group is concerned that the proposed measures make no distinction between those who were arrested for petty crimes _ like shoplifting _ and those arrested for more serious crimes.

David Davis, a lawmaker with the opposition Conservative Party, said that the research on which the government based its proposals on were flawed.

"The government is demonstrating astonishing ignorance and intransigence over keeping innocent peoples' DNA on the government database," he said.

Davis argued that the government should follow the Scottish system of DNA retention, where police can keep DNA from adults charged with violent or sexual offenses for a maximum of three years.

Most other European countries only retain the DNA of individuals suspected of crimes like terrorism, rape and pedophilia.

In Sweden, for example, only people convicted of serious crimes will have theirs profiles kept _ generally for 10 years. In Spain, DNA samples can only be added to a database with a court order, and only in cases of serious crimes with samples remaining on the database depending on the gravity of the crime. In Austria, the DNA samples of suspects of those found innocent are deleted from the database.

Anna Fairclough, a DNA expert at Liberty, said the new proposal will likely face opposition when it goes to the Parliament.

"If it is passed, it will result inevitably in more litigation," she added. Testing Britain's new policy before the human rights court would require the filing of a new lawsuit.

The government said that DNA data is essential for fighting crime and providing justice for victims. The Home Office said that between April 1998 and September 2009 there were more than 410,589 crimes with DNA matches, providing the police with leads on the identities of offenders.

"Clearly the system is giving the police quite a lead with the possible identity of offenders," Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman Simon Lewis said.


Associated Press Writers Daniel Woolls in Madrid, Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna and Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this story.