Feeds

Bioethics group raises DNA database concerns

'There has to be a limit to police powers'

High performance access to file storage

Analysis The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has condemned the retention of "innocent" DNA on the National Database as unjustifed and unethical with "overtones of a police state".

The council - a group of clinicians, lawyers, philosophers, scientists, and theologians - was established in 1991 to examine ethical issues raised by new developments in science.

In its report, The Forensic Use of DNA and Fingerprints: Ethical Issues, the council recommends that police should only be allowed to permanently store bioinformation from people who are convicted of a crime.

Today, the police of England and Wales have wider sampling powers than the police force of any other country, and the UK has (proportionally, per head of population) the largest forensic database in the world.

When the police first began using DNA, consent was required before samples could be taken. A succession of Acts of Parliament and legislative amendments has increased police powers of sampling; the police can now take DNA samples from all persons arrested, without their consent, for recordable offences (an "arbitrary" classification), and retain the samples indefinitely regardless of whether the person arrested is subsequently convicted or even charged.

In response to comments from the Home Office that retaining the DNA of people who were innocent at the time of arrest had helped to solve crimes they committed years later, the Nuffield Council stuck to its guns. "There has to be a limit to police powers," said Dr Carole McCartney, one of the report's authors. "DNA shouldn't be retained simply on the basis that it might turn out to be useful."

She added that many of the statistics from the Home Office were "inconsistent, incomplete and confusing" and that much of its evidence consisted of anecdotal accounts of "horrible men caught with DNA".

The council recommended that the police should put more resources into the collection of DNA from crime scenes, noting that less than 20 per cent of crime scenes are forensically examined, but urged caution with regard to their analysis.

Professor Read outlined some of the information that could be mined from a data rich bio-sample found at the scene of a crime. Conceding that recent advances permitted forensic scientists to have a "pretty good stab at the eye colour", and quickly identify redheads, ethnic profiles generated by DNA analysis were still limited to providing a "very iffy statistical prediction" and there was a danger that such predictions encouraged the police to narrow the focus of their inquiries prematurely.

The council rejected calls for a population-wide database, which would "make all citizens suspects", on account of the lack of empirical evidence that this would substantially improve crime detection rates. It dismissed the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" argument as "fallacious".

The finding of a match between a person and a crime scene does not indicate that the person was at the crime scene or that they committed the crime in question, but it might lead to them being subjected to a police investigation.

The report points out that "simply being the subject of a criminal investigation by the police can cause harm, distress, and stigma", and Sir Bob Hepple QC, chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, cited a newspaper comment on the McCann case that the couple would find it "difficult to prove their innocence" as a result of widely reported forensic links.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.