Saturday, January 21, 2006

DNA

Question: we don’t worry about fingerprint data so what’s the issue with DNA information. It is similarly unique - maybe even more so - so it may help individuals rather than aid conviction. Just another tool. However, a physical sample of my DNA could be used to create a copy of... me. Each cell has the information necessary to recreate me - all 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 in total for the Human species).

It is really about the ethic of assault and the appropriation of personal data without consent or grounds. How is the DNA data acquired and then put onto the database? It does concern civil liberties to an extent, regardless of the justification of "crime fighting".

Mechanism

DNA DATABASE
3,000 DNA matches a month
More than 3m samples held
£300m spent on database

What is DNA?

"It is an investigative tool that the police can use according to their discretion." He added there were "proper safeguards in place" as to how DNA information could be used. The Home Office announced earlier this month that 7% of the UK population would be on the database in two years' time. It is already the biggest in the world and has so far cost £300m. Just over 5% of UK residents currently have their DNA profile held, compared with an EU average of 1.13% and 0.5% in the US.

Of the three million samples held at present, 139,463 are from people never charged or cautioned. The Home Office says the number of samples stored will rise to 4.25 million by 2008.

There are also samples from more than 15,000 volunteers, including victims of crime, who responded to police appeals. However, the number of crimes solved through DNA technology has quadrupled over the past five years. Police can now track down offenders by matching samples with other family members who may be on the database.


The politics:


The over-representation of black people on the DNA database stems from an 'age-old concern' say critics. The government should look into why black people are over-represented on the UK's DNA database, says a black police officers' group. It did not necessarily mean more black criminality, said National Black Police Association spokesman Keith Jarrett. He said an inquiry should examine if officers used the "same robustness" in taking samples from different groups. The Guardian has reported 37% of black men are in the database, compared with fewer than one in 10 white men. The Home Office has admitted black people are over-represented but said figures from the newspaper could give a "misleading impression".

A spokesman said the Home Office did not accept the Guardian's figures because they were based on two different sets of statistics which were not comparable. The Guardian compared the DNA database ethnic group figures - which are compiled by police officers defining an arrested person's race - against the 2001 census where race is self-reported. Civil liberties and black groups say that, whatever the arguments about the details, the fact that more black people are clearly ending up on the database is worrying.

Since last April anybody arrested can have their DNA details held, even if they are not subsequently charged or if they are acquitted after a trial. National Black Police Association spokesman Mr Jarrett says this change has inevitably led to more black men's DNA ending up on the database. He says his time as a custody officer proved to him that black men were more likely to be arrested, as black people had been brought in for "really minor things". "We know from the stop and search figures that black people are disproportionally more likely to be stopped and to come into the custody area than white people. That is a worry in itself because if that is replicated throughout the country DNA samples could be taken from somebody like that and they're not then charged with any offence," Mr Jarrett said.

Black-led human rights group the 1990 Trust said the reason that more black men seemed to be ending up on the DNA database harked back to an "age-old concern". "Once again it's not an argument about the law - because the law is the law. It's about how the law is used," said 1990 Trust spokesman David Weaver. "I think there is a case for the law reverting to what it was before. If you're not convicted your DNA should be destroyed just on the grounds of human rights."

The current situation left in the minds of black communities the suspicion that they were being targeted, Mr Weaver added.

Juveniles' DNA recording

"None of 24,000 were charged with an offence or cautioned". The government has defended storing the DNA profiles of about 24,000 children and young people aged 10 to 18. The youngsters' details are held on the UK database, despite them never having been cautioned, charged or convicted of an offence, a Conservative MP found.

Grant Shapps obtained the figures in his campaign to have the DNA profile of a wrongly arrested teenager erased. He fears a huge juvenile database - though not illegal - is being created by "stealth" and the "back door". The Home Office said no-one lost out by being on it. Suspects who are arrested over any imprisonable offence can have their DNA held even if they are acquitted. "If the government wants to build a DNA database of the entire population, starting with kids - bring forward proposals, pass it through parliament and have a debate."

He is to launch a campaign to get the youngsters' details erased from records.

The Home Office figures came to light when he was campaigning to have the details of 14-year-old Jack Saywood, who was the victim of mistaken identity, deleted. After protests, the local chief constable agreed to remove his details. Jack's mother, Frances, said she was delighted, adding: "I think my son would have had this record for the rest of his life."

But Home Office minister Andy Burnham said no-one lost out through being on the database. "It is not a criminal record to which public authorities and others have access.

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