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DNA pioneer lambasts government database policy

Declares himself 'astonished, perplexed and deeply worried'

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The developer of DNA fingerprinting and profiling has said the government is wrong in retaining profiles of innocent people.

Geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys told MPs that he was "astonished, perplexed and deeply worried" about the existing management policy of the National DNA Database.

He was providing evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in a session on the database on 3 February 2010. Currently, everybody arrested in England and Wales has to provide a DNA sample, and the government has been heavily criticised for retaining profiles of people not charged or found innocent. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against the policy of indefinite retention in late 2008.

In response to a question from committee chair Keith Vaz MP on whether he stood by his criticism of the Home Office's revised proposals of retaining the DNA of anyone who is arrested for six years, Jeffreys replied: "Yes I do indeed, even six years is a unique situation. We are the only country in the world that keeps DNA for that length of time. New Zealand is the closest I can find. No other country is doing this."

When asked by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake what additional controls should be added to the current system, he said innocent people should be taken off the database. He added that he would "object profoundly" if his own DNA was put onto the system.

"DNA is intimately different to fingerprinting, it carries incredibly intimate information about who you are, where you're from and your family," said Jeffreys. He made reference to a recorded suicide due to an innocent person's shame at being on the database and pointed out that the likelihood of a false match "was not zero".

The geneticist said England and Wales should follow Scotland's lead, where police only retain the DNA profiles of innocent people under specific circumstances, with those accused of sexual assaults having their profiles held for a maximum of five years.

Plans by the United Arab Emirates to introduce a mandatory database for the whole population should be watched closely by the UK "to see if it does impact on criminal protection", said Jeffreys.

This article was originally published at Kable.

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