Protests over call for DNA register

Every British citizen and all visitors to the country should have their DNA logged on the national database, a top judge proposed Wednesday, sparking protests from civil liberties groups.

Protests over call for DNA register
Every British citizen and all visitors to the country should have their DNA logged on the national database, a top judge proposed Wednesday, sparking protests from civil liberties groups.

The database, used by police to snare criminals, is already the largest in the world, with 5.2 percent of the population -- around four million people -- on file.

Since 2004, everyone arrested in England and Wales for all but the most minor offences -- regardless of guilt -- has been logged on the database.

Lord Justice Sir Stephen Sedley sparked a debate by arguing Wednesday that was unfair and everyone's DNA should be on file -- which would therefore also allow detectives to catch far more criminals.

"Where we are at the moment is indefensible," Sedley, one of the top appeal court judges, told the BBC.

"We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands of the police then your DNA is on permanent record. If you haven't, it isn't.

"It also means that a great many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free."

He accepted logging every British citizen, and even weekend visitors from abroad, was an authoritarian measure.

"Going forwards has very serious but manageable implications," he said.

"It means that everybody, guilty or innocent, should expect their DNA to be on file for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention."

The database is 12 years old and growing by 30,000 samples a month, taken from suspects or crime scenes.

Numerous cases have arisen of DNA samples being taken in connection with minor incidents which have later proved guilt in very serious crimes dating back decades.

"The DNA database has revolutionised the way the police can protect the public through identifying offenders and securing more convictions. It provides the police on average with around 3,500 matches each month," said a spokeswoman for the Home Office.

But civil liberties campaigners blasted his call, insisting it would be a dangerous attack on personal freedoms and a step towards a "police state."

"A database of every man, woman and child in the country is a chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse," said Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights organisation Liberty.

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of the NO2ID campaign against identity cards, said: "You can't make an 'indefensible' system better by expanding it."

Nick Clegg MP, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, bitterly opposes the idea but said Sedley was at least honest enough to voice what he said the government was trying to achieve by "cloak and dagger" methods.

The interior ministry is undertaking a review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which will consider whether those on the database should be kept on it.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty said he was broadly sympathetic to Sedley's call but there were no plans to act on the suggestion.

"There are no government plans to go to a compulsory database now or in the foreseeable future," he told BBC radio.

AFP
Last Mod: 06 Eylül 2007, 10:00
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