Thu, 29 Jul 2010

An ethical and evidence-based National DNA database

The National DNA Database (NDNAD) Ethics Group (EG) has just published its third annual report, three months after it was completed in April 2010. It makes five recommendations:

1. To accept the fundamental need for prospective studies to ensure that key issues of the proportionality and relevance of the various uses/categories of individuals within the DNA database are illuminated by robust statistical information.

2. The effectiveness of the NDNAD in solving crime needs to be addressed with a proper statistical/evidence basis for any conclusions.

3. The national DNA Database strategy Board and the NPIA should work with the EG towards an embedding of ethical considerations at all stages in the use, obtaining and retention of DNA samples and profiles.

4. The appeals process against decisions not to delete a profile from the database should be reviewed to ensure that the cost of an application does not act as an unreasonable bar to redress. Consideration should be given to referring such decisions to a specialist tribunal (such as that under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) rather than panels of magistrates across the country who may very rarely consider such a case in practice.

5. The Database should be supported by a strong governance framework and there should be a clear and transparent accountability for its operations.

This short report (20 pages) describes the work done by the Ethics Group in the year finishing March 2010 and how its earlier recommendations have been handled. This reveals a few less well-known details about DNA databases and what's in store. Some such items clearly need much more public awareness (emphasis added):

In other news the March 2010 update of the Forensics21 programme explains:

The contract for the supply of DNA sampling kits has been awarded to the Forensic Science Service Ltd (FSS). Orders for DNA sampling kits can be placed with FSS through the DNA Sampling Kits framework agreement. By simply referencing the framework on any orders placed forces will benefit from the new reduced price of £1.95 - a price that will offer a considerable cost saving to all.

The final allocation of 9-series barcodes for PACE DNA sampling kits was made at the end of January 2010. From now on 3-series barcodes will be issued for PACE DNA sampling kits. In addition to the change in barcode series, the forms inside all DNA sampling kits used for the collection of demographic data now ask for less information. The Volunteer DNA sampling kit is being phased out and replaced by the Elimination DNA sampling kit. Information about a new method of taking a DNA sample from a volunteer and its subsequent use, will follow shortly.

This reduced price is just for a sampling kit. For each individual whose DNA is taken, you then need to add the cost of processing the DNA sample to obtain a profile, of storing the sample, retaining the profile, backing up the database, staff cost, etc.

The government has yet to give details on its promise to adopt the Scottish approach to DNA retention.

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