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UK.gov urged to slash DNA retention plan

Database rejig 'not enough' for human rights

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Government plans designed to bring the National DNA Database in line with human rights legislation have been criticised today by an influential group of MPs as not going far enough.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said that DNA profiles from those not convicted of a crime should only be retained for three years.

After defeat at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over a year ago, the government proposed police should store innocent people's DNA data for six years. In December the UK's human rights watchdog warned the planned period could still be illegal.

Currently DNA profiles from every person arrested are held indefinitely, except at the discretion of chief constables.

"We are not convinced that retaining for six years the DNA profiles of people not convicted of any crime would result in more cases being cleared up — let alone more convictions obtained — than retaining them for three years," the Committee said.

Estimates provided by the genetic ethics group GeneWatch, based on data released by the Home Office, said that as few as 0.3 per cent of crimes are solved, or partially solved, by matching a crime scene sample to a profile on the National DNA Database. The Committee said there is no reliable data on what proportion of those useful profiles belong to someone never convicted of a crime.

The Home Office has faced calls from Liberty and other campaigners to delete such data entirely. The Committee rejected this option, however, judging that the benefit to public safety of retention for three years outweighed the impact on individual privacy.

The suggested compromise could offer the government a way to satisfy the House of Lords, where opposition to six-year retention is stronger than in the Commons. Both are due to vote on the Crime and Security Bill, which would make the change, before the election.

Also today, the Committee backed ministers' plans to expand the role of the National DNA Database Strategy Board. It will be made responsible for considering applications nationwide, although local chief constables will retain a veto.

"The Home Secretary cited an example of where DNA data should not be retained — that of someone arrested for shoplifting when trying to exchange goods for which she was carrying the receipt," the Committee said, adding it would expect profiles to be deleted "in a far wider range of cases". ®

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