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Getting off the UK DNA database: ACPO explains how

Or not...

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The UK is something of a DNA record kleptocracy, with a national DNA database now well in excess of three million records, and with new sampling opportunities available to the police on remarkably easy terms. These days it's ever so easy to get onto the UK database, but how do you get off?

What's that you say? You don't? Well, up to a point - but it's not strictly true to say that once you're on the database you absolutely can't get off again. It's just very, very hard and it's going to take you a long, long time. Fortunately, would-be escapees now have the benefit of some guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Exceptional Case Procedures for Removal DNA, Fingerprints and PNC Records, released by ACPO on 24th April, is in part a response to recent decisions made by the Information Tribunal in connection with police retention of criminal records data. Alongside this, "recent widespread media coverage relating to the retention of DNA", ACPO says, is likely to result in a high volume of removal requests over the next 12 months. These requests will in the first instance be made to Chief Officers in their role of data controller, and ACPO feels that it is important that "national consistency" is achieved in their responses.

OK? So how does it work? "Exception cases will by definition be rare," says ACPO, and might well include cases "where the original arrest or sampling was found to be unlawful." Or, if it turns out to be absolutely clear that there wasn't any offence in the first place, that might count. And ACPO gives a specific example:

"For example where a dead body is found in a multi-occupancy dwelling and the cause of death is not immediately obvious. All the occupants are arrested on suspicion of murder pending the outcome of a post mortem. All arrested persons are detained at the local police station and samples taken. It later transpires that the deceased person died of natural causes. No offence therefore exists, and all persons are released from custody."

Find corpse, nick everybody within range just in case? One certainly hopes that's seriously exceptional. Fortunately though, the honest Chief Copper doesn't have to wrestle with these thorny issues alone. Or possibly, at all, considering ACPO's recommended procedure.

First, a request for deletion of a Police National Computer (PNC) record, DNA sample or fingerprints should be viewed as being "a request to remove all items." It is then "essential", says ACPO, that the DNA and fingerprint records are matched correctly to the appropriate arrest summons number on the PNC record. But here comes a gotcha: "Samples taken on other occasions should not be deleted." Which we take to mean that if you're not pursuing a DNA record specific to a PNC arrest record, then you're not going to get off the database. Close the door on your way out.

But what if it is associated with an arrest record? "In the first instance applicants should be sent a letter informing them that the samples and associated PNC record are lawfully held and that their request for deletion / destruction is refused" Oh, right... "unless the applicant believes the application should be regarded as exceptional." In that case, "the applicant should be invited to state the grounds upon which they believe their case to be exceptional."

And then the Chief Officer gets to decide? Well, not exactly. "The Chief Officer is asked to consider any response and either reply to the applicant rejecting the application for the removal of the record(s)" Oh, right... "or refer the case papers to the DNAFRP [DNA & Fingerprint Retention Project], thus ensuring that a consistent approach is adopted nationally."

Then DNAFRP will respond with advice taking into account any relevant precedents, and then the Chief Officer gets to decide. Using a response letter template supplied by DNAFRP. It may be occurring to you that one might easily die of old age while this process was under way. But don't you go thinking dying's going to get you off the database, sunshine, oh no... ®

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