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The National Police Improvement Agency has defended allowing companies access to the national DNA database.

A spokesperson for the NPIA told GC News that there are "stringent guidelines" surrounding each request for profiles from the National DNA Database, including scrutiny by a newly formed ethics board.

"After approval by the National DNA Database Strategy Board, they were made available for authorised research purposes demonstrating clear potential operational benefit to the police in terms of detecting and solving crime. These profiles are completely anonymous and are not identifiable in any way," said the spokesperson.

The Liberal Democrats said a series of Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the NPIA has approved 25 applications for research projects using DNA profiles from the DNA database.

It said that five came from private companies, with three from LGC and two from Orchid Cellmark, and that no one whose DNA is being used in these projects had given their consent. "Innocent people are on the database, and their DNA will have been included in the research," the party said in a statement.

It also said that the police, many of whose officers have added themselves to the database voluntarily, rejected a request for their DNA samples to be used in a research project.

Jenny Willott, the party's shadow minister for home affairs, said: "The 25 projects that have been approved by ministers include some sinister explorations into ethnic profiling. It is appalling that these Big Brother practices have been allowed to go on unchecked for so long and with extremely limited ethical standards."

Responding to the Liberal Democrats' claim that accesses to the database were allowed for "commercial reasons," the NPIA said that any charge is minimal to recoup administration costs.

In June Willott tabled a private member's bill which called for all innocent people to be removed from the DNA database. She told the Commons that although everyone accepts that DNA has been a massive breakthrough in crime detection, the government has pursued this breakthrough in a disproportionate way.

Particularly worrying, according to Willott, is number of children on the database, estimated to be more than 700,000 people who were under 18 when they were arrested and their DNA samples taken.

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.

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