Thu, 07 May 2009

Sky News Sunrise on Thursday at 8.15am

Jacqui Smith pre-announced in The Observer, she will publish this week the government's plans for the destruction of the DNA profiles and/or DNA samples of innocents. Details are currently lacking. A first welcomed step in complying the European Court of Human Right's ruling would be the bulk destruction of the DNA profiles, DNA samples, fingerprints and associated PNC records of innocents.

Tomorrow, Thursday, at 8.1015am I'll be interviewed by Eamonn Holmes on Sky News Sunrise about my experience getting off the National DNA Database (NDNAD).

Update 1 - From press reports, the Home Office plans include:

(The consultation document has still not yet been published.)

Update 2 - I arrived at the Westminster studio early. This allowed time for a recorded interview (I don't think this interview was used), with Joey Jones, about my views on the NDNAD and the announced changes. The destruction of the DNA samples is a positive step, but the retention of DNA of innocents for years is not acceptable.

While I wait, Vernon Coaker shows up with three minders. Two of them write down what he says when he's on air. I make a mental note to debunk some of his more outrageous claims such, e.g., the large size of the NDNAD helps with crime detection. The detection rate remained about the same when the number of individual profiles on the database doubled. What makes a big difference is the number of DNA profiles of crime scenes, not of individuals. (See Ten myths about the NDNAD for more myths debunking.) A few minutes after the quartet leaves Sky News, one of the minder comes back to pick up a document she had forgotten on a table; unfortunately no journalist had noticed this possibly interesting material!

Then it's eventually my turn. The set up is very disconcerting as there's no one else in the studio and the only feedback is audio. I sit in a fixed chair and am told to look at a spot which is between the camera lens and a red light situated above it. Two strong lights are directed at whoever is in the chair, hence the regular blinking. I listen to the previous segment while staring at this dark spot behind the lights and above the camera. A voice introduces itself as the producer and asks me if I hear the audio feedback fine and eventually it all starts. At no point can I see what image is broadcast or the reaction of the interviewer. Joey Jones told me earlier it was likely to be Eamonn Holmes, but not being that familiar with his voice I do not really know who's interviewing me.

I had prepared some points I wanted to talk about. Some I mentioned in the recorded interview (why such a large database, because this database state is keen on collecting as much data as it can on us; it is a criminal intelligence database for the purpose of crime detection), many others I didn't (databases have mistakes, are accessed illegally, get forgotten on trains, etc. DNA can be used to identify children and parents as well, the samples and profiles are used for research without consent, etc. and some practical advice: the current system of the 'exceptional procedure', that if you're on the NDNAD you should go to the new Reclaim your DNA website, and in any case you must respond to this consultation.) As Eamonn Holmes was under the impression that my DNA profile was still on the NDNAD, I explained several of the actions I had to take in the two years it took me to manage to eventually successfully reclaim my DNA. I had the impression we had just started, but several minutes had already gone and it was all over! So I had the time for much less than I was hoping to communicate. Click on either of the two pictures to download the video (16.5 MB), if you must.

On my way out, I bumped into Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK, the leading UK organisation providing independent information on genetic technologies, on her way to do some interviews. Read GeneWatch's reaction to the government plans at Home Office drags its feet on DNA database removals.

Mistaken suspectDNA Campaigner

I wonder who decides on the captions identifying people on TV? I didn't think 'Former suspect' was neutral enough when this was used in an earlier appearance. This time, the caption changed through the interview. It started with 'Mistaken suspect' and finished with 'DNA campaigner'. The former is obviously wrong and is likely why it was changed, but the latter is still a shortcut: DNA is not a campaign. I am campaigning, with many others, to ensure that innocents are no longer treated as 'yet to be convicted' and that means full compliance with the ECtHR ruling condemning 'the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences'.

Update 3 - The consultation Keeping the right people on the DNA database has now been published. It closes on 2009-09-07. With more than five million profiles on the NDNAD, about one in ten persons in the UK, either you're on it or you likely know someone who is. After a critical reading of the documents, do respond to voice your views. For reliable independent information on most aspects of the NDNAD, check GeneWatch UK.

Until the consultation closes and the government decides what it will do, hopefully more in line with the spirit of the unanimous ruling of the ECtHR, the 'exceptional' rule still apply. If you're innocent and on the NDNAD, write to the chief constable of the force that arrested you to reclaim your DNA.

First published 2009-05-06; last updated 2009-05-07.

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