Thu, 07 Aug 2008

Is the role of a criminal database to retain profiles of innocents?

The National DNA Database Ethics Group published its first annual report. It contains 11 recommendations. Two of these make it clear that the National DNA Database (NDNAD) is a ‘crime-related intelligence database’ (as opposed to an identity database). This implies that there is indeed stigma of being included in the NDNAD:

Recommendation I: Consideration should be given to further public clarification of the role of the NDNAD and reinforcement of the message that it is intended only to be used for criminal intelligence.

Recommendation J: Consideration should be given to formally announcing publicly that the NDNAD will only be used for the currently described purposes (i.e. criminal intelligence) and will never transform into a repository for the whole nation’s DNA characteristics.

Two other recommendations show the Ethics group wants it much easier for innocents to get off the NDNAD:

Recommendation G: A clearer, simpler and less cumbersome process needs to be put in place to enable those who wish to appeal against the decision of a Chief Constable to retain their DNA profile on the NDNAD.

Recommendation H: Consideration should be given to reviewing the definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ensuring that the reasons for the retention of data and samples are aligned with data protection legislation, human rights legislation and the concept of proportionality.

The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) published the findings of its Citizens’ Inquiry into the Forensic Use of DNA and the National DNA Database. This report contains 29 core recommendations, some mirroring those of the NDNAD Ethics Group. Hear Sir John Sulston, HGC's acting Chair, comment on the purpose of the NDNAD to the BBC:

We need to go back to the basic question - what is this database for? Is it really intended as an ID database, which is perfectly arguable, and then you could use it for many purposes, including solving crime, including the identification of lost bodies. Or do we regard it, as I believe the police do at the moment, as a criminal database? If it is the latter there is a stigma attached to being on it and we have to be absolutely clear about that purpose.

A majority of respondents are also in full agreement that innocents should not be on the NDNAD:

Recommendation 18: If a person whose DNA has been loaded on to the database is found to be innocent or is released, the DNA sample must be destroyed and the profile removed from the database by law. Innocent people on the database should now be removed.

Increased transparency was favoured by a majority:

Recommendation 3: The government should fund the National DNA Database but not own it. The database should be owned by an independent body accountable only to the general public. Lay people should be recruited onto the independent body through equal opportunity processes.

The findings of the Citizens’ Inquiry will help to focus the HGC’s evidence gathering and further consultation, the results of which will be drawn together in a final report expected in early 2009. A consultation for members of the public is open until 2008-11-07.

Using freedom of information requests, Jenny Willott, LibDem MP who last month called for a new regulatory framework to remove DNA samples and profile of innocents, found out that the Home Office approved 25 applications for research projects using DNA profiles from the NDNAD. No one whose DNA is being used in these projects has given their consent. Five research projects were from private companies that refused to release some details because it would harm their commercial interests. DNA samples of innocents taken by the police are being used for commercial gain by private companies.

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