Sat, 20 Nov 2010

All 'Bout Children and DNA databases

Terri Dowty from Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) and Dr Helen Wallace from GeneWatch UK, two exceptional campaigners on civil liberties, will be talking about children's databases and the National DNA Database (NDNAD) at a free event organised by No2ID this Monday 22nd November, 7pm in the Bertrand Russell Room, Conway Hall (25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL).

To coincide with her appearance in the film Erasing David, Terri Dowty published earlier this year a Privacy guide for parents (pdf) detailing the information collected about children from the moment they are born. Even though this document does not yet reflect the latest successes of ARCH's campaigns such as the end of ContactPoint in August or the recent promise that schools will no longer take children’s fingerprints without consent, it's worth browsing through it to fully realise the extent of data collection going on. To ensure its continued future, ARCH is building a new network of supporters. To support ARCH's work on children's civil liberties and data protection rights, join as a Supporter on its recently revamped website.

GeneWatch UK is calling everyone to write to or visit his or her MP to ask him or her to support the forthcoming Freedom Bill, which will introduce new legislation on DNA and to make sure it includes all the necessary safeguards. The coalition government promises that this bill will change the rules for DNA retention by following the Scottish approach. I explained what this means in Adopting the Scottish approach to DNA retention (all those arrested and not charged, and most of those charged but not convicted, would not have their DNA retained anymore).

The necessary safeguards GeneWatch is demanding are:

There's a wide consensus for the destruction of the DNA samples and such a measure could be effected immediately; see Interim situation to continue a bit longer for DNA retention for details of this and some of the options for change.

The second point is important not just as a future necessary safeguard but also as a useful reminder for those exceptional individuals who succeed in reclaiming their DNA using the current exceptional case procedure. Usually fingerprints (and palm and other prints) are destroyed at the same time as DNA samples and profile when a chief constable eventually agrees to such a request. However, the police have been lobbying to retain the associated Police National Computer (PNC) record; it is essential that this record is deleted as the PNC can be accessed by many organisations and having a PNC record may affect one's job and visa prospects among other risks. The last item, photographs, is in the experience of many innocents surprisingly difficult to get back or destroyed. Only this month a correspondent who after successfully reclaiming his DNA and subsequently specifically querying whether the police was still holding on to some pictures of him was told 'we still hold details of the incident, including photos of you, on some of our systems'. In my case the police relented to return the photographs it took of me and at my flat only after they agreed to settle, two years after they destroyed my DNA and prints. Innocents, on the occasions that they do succeed in getting off the National DNA Database, should not have to be so thorough and have to make multiple formal requests for the destruction of each and every piece of personal information that the police may have collected on them.

Time limits on the retention of DNA for minor offences and for cautions is necessary to ensure rehabilitation, otherwise it is in essence a life sentence which can affect jobs and visas prospects. The longer DNA samples are stored and profiles held, the more they are at risk of being lost or unlawfully accessed; I have compiled a list of those documented instances I could find at DNA database unauthorised use and data loss, and incorrect storing of DNA samples. Independent oversight is an obvious necessity. I suggest you discuss with your MP how it can be effective as well as independent. As for GeneWatch's demand for stricter controls on the use of DNA samples and profiles, consider that today –if you have been arrested for one of the many recordable offences– research can be done on your DNA profile or sample without needing your consent. You won't even be informed that your DNA information was used.

A briefing document, The DNA Database: Contacting your MP (pdf), supporting these demands and offering further points of information to have an informed discussion with your MP is published on GeneWatch's website. Read it and contact your MP! (If your DNA is already on the National DNA Database, for help to get off, check out the Reclaim Your DNA website.)

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback