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UK government tunes out debate on DNA database

Pressure mounts on records of innocents

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The government has responded to an e-petition on the burgeoning DNA database but rebuffed its main complaint that the world's largest criminological genetic store has been built "by stealth" and without Parliamentary and public consent.

750 people had endorsed the e-petition, "StopDNAbystealth", which complained that DNA policy constituted "unjustified accumulation of private data by the State, which erodes the presumption of innocence and feeds a culture of authoritarianism."

The government's response to the petition yesterday said that DNA policy had been given its due Parliamentary test when it was passed as part of the Criminal Evidence Act. Amendments that had since 2001 increased police powers to store and use DNA had all required Parliamentary consent, it said.

Yet both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition parties have long been calling for a dedicated debate on how civil rights will be effected by a criminological DNA database consisting mostly of details collected from innocent people.

Their request was repeated after the Libdems complained yesterday that the DNA database had captured the genetic markers of over 100 children below the age of 10.

Terri Dowty, director of Action on Rights for Children, has complained previously that the database could stigmatise children.

"These children will be on the database for the rest of their lives. This means that whenever their DNA is found at a crime scene, they will have to be prepared to justify themselves. We are turning thousands of innocent children into lifelong suspects," she said on the publication of a report on the matter last month.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP, yesterday echoed wider concerns about the retention of genetic records taken from people who had not been charged with any offence.

The government was adamant that the scores the DNA database had given police outweighed any infringement the store might have on civil liberties.

"While the Government understands that some people are concerned by these powers it firmly believes that they are justified by the additional crimes solved," said its petition response.

By trawling for genetic matches against lists of people arrested but not charged, the government said it had "yielded a match with a crime scene" more than 3,000 times. It did not say how many of these had led to convictions or even charges. It did, however, say that of those leads, 37 were for murders and 90 for rapes.

The outgoing Home Secretary said last month that one quarter of people on the DNA database had neither been convicted nor cautioned, though this could be for a variety of reasons including that they were still being investigated prior to a decision to charge, as well as having been cleared.®

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