Fri, 09 Apr 2010

Politicians and the DNA database

Why is it that the topic of the National DNA Database (NDNAD) brings the worse crassness out of politicians? Two days ago, the Tories changed their mind on what they had long claimed to be a 'point of principle', allowing the Crime and Security Bill to become an Act with its DNA clauses intact. Today, Gordon Brown went a few notches up by misleading the public about DNA retention in the presence of the family of Sally Anne Bowman, at a campaign event in Stevenage. His arguments, that retaining the DNA profile of anyone arrested is essential to bring to justice criminals, including the killer of Sally Anne Bowman, has been debunked before, many times.

Retention of DNA profiles of innocents does not improve crime detection. What helps is retention of DNA profiles of crime scenes. More details in the post: Home Office gets DNA database funding priorities wrong. Tables of the detection rates for the past two years are in this post: Sorry Affairs Committee; it has remained over the years close to 0.36%.

The Home Office has still not published data supporting the claims by ministers of cases where DNA evidence has been essential. What has been published by the Home Office has times and again proven to be unreliable: the research by the Jill Dando Institute published with the Home Office consultation was from my reading of it an estimation based only on approximately 18 cases taken over three days at one year interval; more about this in the post: Sentenced to genetic probation (the research was later disavowed by the Institute's director). The research published alongside the summary of responses to the consultation is of little use as it 'does not provide evidence to inform the length of any general DNA retention period'; more details in the post: Home Office still wants your DNA profile, and your PNC record. When the Home Office listed five case studies in a letter to a Committee scrutinising the Crime and Security Bill, two of these five were in fact one and the same; more details in the post: Home Office: five equals four.

In the specific case of Sally Anne Bowman, Mark Dixie's DNA was profiled after a pub brawl and then matched to the DNA profile of the crime scene. There was no need for DNA retention of individual profiles in this case. This case and a few others are listed on Liberty's Busting the Myths. Gordon Brown also mentioned how Sally Anne Bowman's boyfriend was eventually exonerated thanks to the arrest of Mark Dixie. What he didn't say is that another innocent man, Kevin Reynolds, whose DNA profile was on the DNA database, was also arrested for this murder and had a second DNA sample taken when his first retained sample should have been enough to prevent his arrest. More details, published two years ago, in the post: DNA retention of unconvicted people.

The National DNA Database has more than five million records including those of close to one million innocents. What happens to their personal and intimate data should get more respect from politicians.

See also reactions from GeneWatch UK and Liberty, and the election fact checking of The Guardian and The Times.

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