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Police hit delete on DNA profiles

If you're not charged or convicted, your sample will probably be binned

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DNA records will no longer be kept on innocent people questioned over routine crimes in England and Wales, the government has said. It will still keep samples of those questioned in connection with terrorist offences.

The move is a major change in Government policy and will result in a massive reduction in the number of innocent people whose DNA is held by police. The move comes two years after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) called the policy for England and Wales an unfair interference with subjects' rights to privacy.

It forms part of the Government's Freedoms Bill, a law that seeks to reform the way that records on individuals are kept and used, among other things. The Bill will reduce the number of people who will have to undergo criminal records checks; reform the law on investigations into individuals; reduce stop-and-search powers; and reduce the allowed period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.

The Bill orders the destruction of DNA material in most cases where a person is not charged or convicted of a crime.

For those whose samples were taken while detained under the Terrorism Act they must not be immediately destroyed, though. They can be kept for three years, or indefinitely in the case of people who have already committed a serious crime.

Samples taken from people in the investigation of other serious offences and from people who have been previously convicted of serious offences can also be retained, some for three years and some indefinitely, the Bill said.

The Bill also contains provisions reforming the use of technology for surveillance, including CCTV systems and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems.

The Government said that the Bill would rebalance the relationship between the state and individuals.

"The first duty of the state is the protection of its citizens, but this should never be an excuse for the government to intrude into people’s private lives," said Home Secretary Theresa May. "Snooping on the contents of families’ bins and security checking school-run mums are not necessary for public safety and this Bill will bring them to an end."

"This is a landmark Bill which will result in an unprecedented rolling back of the power of the state," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. "The Protection of Freedoms Bill brings together a huge range of measures to restore the hard-won British liberties that have been lost in recent years."

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham welcomed some of the Bill's provisions. "The Bill engages with issues that have been longstanding concerns for us: ensuring the right organisations are subject to freedom of information requirements; that the information the public need is available when they need it; increased privacy safeguards on biometric information such as DNA profiles and ensuring effective regulation of camera surveillance, including the increasing use of automatic number plate recognition," said Graham. “The detail of these important provisions will need careful consideration. The current proposals on improved regulation of CCTV and ANPR are limited to the police and local government only but their use is much more widespread. We will be examining all of the Bill’s provisions closely to be satisfied that they will deliver in practice," he said.

Others were not so positive. Daniel Hamilton from campaign group Big Brother Watch said that the changes to rules on criminal records checks were welcome, but that the changes to DNA rules were not sufficient.

"On the DNA database, however, the Bill doesn't go far enough," he told news agency the Press Association. "While today's announcement will see a ban on collecting the DNA of those arrested and not convicted of crimes today, the details of more than 1.1 million innocent people will remain on the Police database. Their records must be deleted."

Until 2009, DNA profiles on those arrested in connection with crimes in England and Wales were kept indefinitely. A case brought before the ECHR resulted in a ruling that said that the UK Government's "blanket and indiscriminate" retention of DNA information was not fair and was a "disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life", as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

A year later the Government said that it would retain DNA data for six years for those questioned over most crimes. For those questioned over terrorism or national security offences the six-year limit would not apply, it said.

Those rules are now set to change again.

In Scotland, different rules have applied. Profiles on people questioned but released are deleted in relation to all but serious and sexual offences.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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