Mon, 19 Jan 2015

Privacy campaigners vindicated in fight to delete DNA profiles of innocents

The Protection of Freedom Act 2012 introduced more restrictive rules about the retention of DNA profiles of individuals on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) including the deletion of the DNA profiles of most individuals who are not charged (No Further Action) or acquitted. This was a change welcomed by activists who had been campaigning that keeping tabs on innocents should not happen in a liberal democracy and that it does not make policing more efficient (adding hay to the hay stack makes finding the needles harder). What would have increased the crime detection rate would have been to fund for more DNA profiles from crime scenes to be added.

As of 31 March 2014, the National DNA Database held 5,716,085 DNA profiles from individuals down from 6,737,973 a year earlier, and 456,856 DNA profiles from crime scenes up from 428,634 a year earlier. In 2013-14, 1,384,905 DNA profiles from individuals were deleted from the database. Of these, 1,352,356 of these were deleted under the provisions of PoFA; 31,690 profiles taken by Scottish forces were deleted under Scottish law. A further 6,837 crime scene profiles were deleted because the crimes had been solved.

I wrote nearly three years ago:

It is a success for all the privacy activists and victims who campaigned to restore the presumption of innocence and the rehabilitation of offenders having been convicted of a minor crime. GeneWatch UK –as an indefatigable organisation at the forefront of the campaign to change the law to make the National DNA Database much smaller and more carefully controlled, and to safeguard privacy and rights without compromising the use of DNA in fighting crime– deserves much credit in this success.

Last month the government eventually agreed with what we had said all along. Lord Bates, Lords Minister and Minister for Criminal Information, Home Office in his ministerial foreword to the National DNA Database: annual report, 2013 to 2014 recognised that:

The reduction in profiles held from innocent people has not led to any reduction in the number of matches the database produces. In the quarter from 1 April to 30 June 2014, the database produced 37 matches to murder, 127 to rapes and 6,111 to other crime scenes. In the same quarter of 2013, when the old system for retaining DNA was in effect, it produced 37 matches to murder, 103 to rapes and 6,141 to other crime scenes.
[Emphasis added.]

Chris Sims, Chair, National DNA Database Strategy Board Chief Constable, West Midlands added:

The NDNAD match rate on loading a crime scene profile reached 61.9% in 2013–14. This was the highest annual rate yet and shows the success of the NDNAD in detecting crime and protecting the public.

The NDNAD Strategy Board showed some surprise at this outcome at its September 2014 meeting, but could not find any error in the draft annual report!

4.6 MC presented a draft of the National DNA Database Strategy Board’s Annual Report for 2013–14 (Paper 4.1) to the Board. He thanked Carl Jennings for his hard work on the report. He said that this was the first report since the implementation of PoFA. The proportion of profiles from innocent people had fallen from 50% to 3%. He reported that the number of profiles on the database had fallen from 7.2 million to five million but that the match rate had had in fact risen slightly from 59% to 62%. He had checked this with KF and they could not find any errors with the figures. JA said that the increase in match rate was not expected; in fact, a decrease had been anticipated. She asked if the number of crime scene profiles had reduced. MC said that the report would be published as soon as the Board were content. CS added that it was good that we were near publication.

4.7 CS asked if we had got the chronology on the deletion of samples correct and MC confirmed that we had. Batches of deletions took place in fairly short timescales (for example over a weekend). CS said that we needed a proper review of PoFA implementation and MC added that any analysis of implementation must be independent and not carried out by the police or the Home Office. CH added that such a review would need ministers’ co-operation as well as funding and an appropriate experimental design. AP said that the scientific design committee could input into any such review.
[Emphasis added.]

Blanket and indiscriminate surveillance is not the solution. It is neither necessary nor appropriate.


Retention periods for DNA profiles and fingerprints (as presented in the annual report).

1. Non-convictions:

Occurrence Fingerprint and DNA Profile Retention
Minor offence – arrested or charged None – but speculatively searched
Qualifying offence* – arrested not charged None, but in exceptional cases on application to the Biometrics Commissioner, three years retention may be authorised, plus two year extension by court
Qualifying offence* – arrested and charged Three years plus possible two year extension by court
Minor offence – Penalty Notice for Disorder Two years

2. Convictions (include cautions, reprimands and final warnings):

Occurrence Fingerprint and DNA Profile Retention
Under 18 – Convicted of a minor offence First conviction: five years (plus length of any custodial sentence), or indefinite if the custodial sentence is five years or more.
Under 18 – Second conviction Indefinite
Under 18 – Convicted of a qualifying offence* Indefinite
Adult – Convicted of an offence Indefinite

*Qualifying offences are serious violent or sexual, terrorism and burglary offences.

Where an individual has more than one arrest on their record, the longest retention period will be applied.

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