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Police want DNA collection superpowers

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Police in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales are seeking to extend their already world-beating powers to collect and store DNA samples from the general population.

Current powers allow the coppers to collect samples, which are digitised and stored permanently, from anyone arrested on suspicion of, but not neccesarily charged with, a recordable offence. This is normally an offence that would qualify for a custodial sentence.

But now they want to be able to snoop the genetic make-up of those arrested for non-recordable offences, such as dropping litter or speeding.

Speaking in support of the request for expanded powers, Inspector Thomas Huntley from the Ministry of Defence Police said the change would allow the plods to collect samples from people before they had committed a serious offence, a situation he considered preferable to "allowing a serious offender to walk from custody, following arrest for a non-recordable offence, and if they go on to commit a further offence".

Reading this carefully, we think he is saying that we need everyone on the database in case they commit a crime at some point in the future.

But despite some support for the police's request to massively expand the database, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) warned that granting such powers could contribute to the increasing "criminalisation of generally law-abiding public".

The call from the boys in blue comes as the government launches a new consultation on the existing powers, to be held by the government's advisory body, the Human Genetics Commission (HGC).

The so-called Citizen's Inquiry "will be involving a small, group of ordinary people who will consider social and ethical issues involved in the current and future use of DNA for forensic purposes", according to the HGC announcement.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the HGC's chair, said the inquiry would cover things like whether or not it is justified to retain data from people who are either not charged or subsequently acquitted.

She added: "It is likely that the use of DNA information by police authorities for criminal intelligence purposes will grow.  It is therefore vital that the public are able to voice their views having had the opportunity to consider all the relevant issues."

The inquiry was welcomed by campaign group GeneWatch. Spokeswoman Dr Helen Wallace said the consultation with the public on powers "unprecedented" in British history was long overdue. "Your DNA can reveal where you have been, who you are related to, and sensitive information about your health. There is a real danger of abuse by Governments, or by anyone who might infiltrate the system and obtain access to people's DNA or computer records."

The national DNA database already holds four million records, among them almost 900,000 relating to children between the age of 10 and 17. There are also 100 records relating to children under 10, according to reports. ®

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