Tue, 10 Mar 2009

From age 1- to 90+... everyone's DNA welcome as Jacqui holds the biobank

Monday in Parliament:

Christopher Huhne (Liberal Democrat): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how old the (a) youngest and (b) oldest person with a profile on the national DNA database is; and how old the (i) youngest and (ii) oldest person to have had a profile added to the national DNA database was at the time the profile was added.

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary, Labour): As at 26 November 2008, the youngest person with a profile on the National DNA Database was aged under one year and the oldest was over 90 years old. The youngest person to have had a profile added to the NDNAD was under one year old, and the oldest was over 90 years old, at the time the profile was added.

The precise age of the subject profile taken from the subject aged over 90 cannot be disclosed as it would constitute personal data as defined by Article 2 of the European Data Protection Directive: information relating to an identified or identifiable individual.

On 16 December 2008, I announced that the Government would take immediate steps to remove the DNA profiles of children aged under ten from the NDNAD.

This is the second time - at least - in three months that Jacqui Smith reminds us the government would take immediate steps. Does the time it takes depends on how many times the expression 'immediate steps' is repeated? Are three 'immediate steps' longer than a 'normal step'? Or a 'rapid step"? What about a 'slow crawl'? (Francophones will remember the wonderful sketch "Et puis y'a la télé" by Coluche.)

Coincidentally, on Monday, Jack Straw was talking at the LSE and Cafe Babel reports that he spoke freely about the retention of DNA records (surprisingly this comment is not included in the official transcript):

"I would be perfectly happy to hand over everyone's DNA. Some people think that it may be sensible to have a universal DNA database."

Except that those opposed to the blanket retention of fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles and associated records of innocents include a unanimous jury at the European Court of Human Rights, and we're all waiting for the government to eventually comply with this ruling.

Data provided by Alan Campbell earlier this month concur with GeneWatch UK's analysis that what makes a difference is adding crime scene DNA profiles not DNA profiles of innocents. The answer to the question 'how many and what proportion of recorded crimes have been detected using DNA from the national DNA database' (asked by Jennifer Willott ) is 0.71% for the first half of the financial year 2008-09. (Bear in mind that detections are achieved through integrated criminal investigation, not through DNA alone.)

Likely sensing that this figure may not show the stubborn insistence of the government to hold on to as many of our DNA profiles and samples as they can in the best possible light, Alan Campbell went on to answer a question that wasn't asked but that he must have felt better about. For a different period of time, 2007-08, there was an 89% match rate if you only consider crimes that 'yielded DNA crime scene samples of sufficient quantity and quality for profiling and loading to the NDNAD'. (If you consider all crime scences where DNA material was collected, the match rates lowers to 36%.)

This demonstrates that retaining good quality DNA profiles from crime scenes is really useful - as opposed to criminalising innocents from as young as a few months old -, and how desperate the government is on this issue.

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