Feeds

Ethics body calls for DNA safeguards

More controls to protect the innocent

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

An independent medical body has warned that more controls are needed to protect the innocent against unjustified DNA profiling.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which examines ethical issues raised by new developments in medicine, has sounded the warning in a new report titled The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues.

Among a series of recommendations aimed at protecting the freedoms of innocent people, the council says the police should only be allowed to keep the DNA of people who are convicted of a crime. Currently, the police can permanently store the samples of people who have been arrested on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) regardless of whether they are later found to be innocent.

The exceptions, says the council, should be people charged with serious violent or sexual offences, whose DNA could be kept for up to five years even if they are not convicted.

The government has consulted on plans to allow police to take and store DNA from those arrested for non-recordable offences, such as littering and minor traffic offences. The report urges these proposals to be dropped.

"After careful consideration, we do not think that this is justified at the current time," said Professor Sir Bob Hepple QC, chair of the council. "We would like to see the police put more resources into the collection of DNA from crime scenes, rather than from individuals suspected of minor offences."

High Court judge Lord Justice Sedley recently called for the DNA of every UK citizen and foreign visitor to be entered on the database. He suggested that it is currently an imperfect mechanism and open to problems of discrimination. But the council believes that this would only have a small impact on public safety and would not justify the intrusion on privacy.

The retention of around 750,000 under-18s on the database is also a matter of controversy, as the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child gives children special protection under the legal system, including opportunities for rehabilitation.

Speaking to GC News, Jackie Worrall, director of policy and public affairs at criminal justice charity Nacro, said that the retention of DNA under such instances could undermine the potential to rehabilitate. She said: "A significant number of offenders who are young would want to put their offending past behind them."

The report recommends the removal of children's DNA from the database, if requested, unless a very serious offence has been committed.

The council also calls for controls to prevent ethnic inferences from being routinely sought, and for legal professionals to gain a minimum understanding of statistics with regard to DNA evidence in court.

Regulation of forensic databases should also be enshrined in law, while an independent tribunal should be set up to oversee requests by individuals to remove their DNA from the database.

Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Nick Clegg MP said: "The retention of the DNA of thousands of innocent British citizens is an outrage and must stop. It blurs the fundamental distinction between innocence and guilt upon which our whole criminal justice system depends."

The DNA debate has caught the attention of other civil liberties groups in recent weeks, with human rights lobbyists Liberty calling for similar safeguards in a report on privacy published last week.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Infosec geniuses hack a Canon PRINTER and install DOOM
Internet of Stuff securo-cockups strike yet again
'Speargun' program is fantasy, says cable operator
We just might notice if you cut our cables
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Greater dev access to iOS 8 will put us AT RISK from HACKERS
Knocking holes in Apple's walled garden could backfire, says securo-chap
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.