Infant school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become civil liberties infringers in later life, according to Britain’s most annoyed civil liberties supporter.
John Doe, editor of the UK Liberty blog said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential civil liberties infringers, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future infringing traits in children as young as two.
‘If we have a primary means of identifying people before they infringe, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,’ said Doe. ‘You could argue the younger the better. Civil liberties experts say some people will grow out of infringements; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society, and then send them where they can infringe to their hearts content – say, Iran, Saudi Arabia or North Korea.’
Doe admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future infringers, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle civil liberties infringements before they take place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database – the largest in Europe – but experts believe more are required to reduce infringements further. ‘The number of proposed infringements says we are not sampling enough of the right people,’ Doe said. However, he said his proposal is currently prohibited by pandering to public opinion and scaremongering about terrorism, paedophiles and criminals.
Police and MPs condemned his comments last night by likening them to an excerpt from a ‘science fiction novel’. The Labour party warned that it was a step backwards from a ‘police state’.
Doe’s call for the government to consider options such as placing infant school children who have been setting up their own identity registers is supported by elements of civil liberties theory. A well-established pattern of infringing involves relatively minor proposals escalating to more absurd ones. Senior civil liberties experts are understood to be confident that techniques are able to identify future infringers.
Doe believes that measures to identify infringers early would save the economy huge sums – simply setting up the National Identity Register alone will cost £5.6bn – and significantly reduce the number of infringements committed.
Tax inspectors are to be given powers to make unannounced visits to homes to see tax records.
The new rules, to come in to force in April next year, will target taxpayers and not just big business, if it is suspected that money is owed.
The changes follow on from the recent merger of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.
The Daily Mail reported that Revenue and Customs analysis done in 2005 suggests up to £23.4 billion alone was lost on income tax, capital gains tax and national insurance. The document is believed to be the first official analysis of the “tax gap”.
Tax dodging reportedly costs each British household £1,600.
But Revenue and Customs said the analysis was unreliable as it was subject to high margins of error due to lack of data.
A spokesman said the changes were part of a review of Customs powers, aligning them with those which VAT officers have when they visit premises.
He said: “Officers will have the right to make unannounced visits … In practice it’s something that is going to happen very rarely.”
He said that in “99.9%” of cases an appointment would be made.
“It’s making sure that everybody has the same powers,” he said. “It’s nothing draconian.”
Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain’s most senior police forensics expert.
Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.
‘If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,’ said Pugh. ‘You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.’
And do what with them?
Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders,
but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database – the largest in Europe – but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. ‘The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,’ Pugh told The Observer.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s something we have to live with as a cost of being a relatively free society. I’d suggest living somewhere more ‘oppressive’ of civil liberties – say, certain countries in the Middle East or Africa – but they have crime as well.
However, he said the notion of universal sampling – everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database – is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.
And, surely, the absence of any discussion about false positives, indeed the absence of a discussion about any of the disadvantages.
Civil liberty groups condemned his comments last night by likening them to an excerpt from a ‘science fiction novel’. One teaching union warned that it was a step towards a ‘police state’.
Pugh’s call for the government to consider options such as placing primary school children who have not been arrested on the database is supported by elements of criminological theory. A well-established pattern of offending involves relatively trivial offences escalating to more serious crimes. Senior Scotland Yard criminologists are understood to be confident that techniques are able to identify future offenders.
Can we please stress, though, that no-one is a criminal until they have actually committed a crime?
A recent report from the think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for children to be targeted between the ages of five and 12 with cognitive behavioural therapy, parenting programmes and intensive support. Prevention should start young, it said, because prolific offenders typically began offending between the ages of 10 and 13. Julia Margo, author of the report, entitled ‘Make me a Criminal’, said: ‘You can carry out a risk factor analysis where you look at the characteristics of an individual child aged five to seven and identify risk factors that make it more likely that they would become an offender.’
Five years old! How on earth do you diagnose a ‘future offender’ at five years old?
However, she said that placing young children on a database risked stigmatising them by identifying them in a ‘negative’ way.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, denounced any plan to target youngsters. ‘Whichever bright spark at Acpo thought this one up should go back to the business of policing or the pastime of science fiction novels,’ she said. ‘The British public is highly respectful of the police and open even to eccentric debate, but playing politics with our innocent kids is a step too far.’
Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers’ Association, said most teachers and parents would find the suggestion an ‘anathema’ and potentially very dangerous. ‘It could be seen as a step towards a police state,’ he said. ‘It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done. They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.’
Davis admitted that most teachers could identify children who ‘had the potential to have a more challenging adult life’, but said it was the job of teachers to support them.
Pugh, though, believes that measures to identify criminals early would save the economy huge sums – violent crime alone costs the UK £13bn a year – and significantly reduce the number of offences committed.
However, he said the British public needed to move away from regarding anyone on the DNA database as a criminal and accepted it was an emotional issue.
‘Fingerprints, somehow, are far less contentious,’ he said.
‘We have children giving their fingerprints when they are borrowing books from a library.’
Indeed, why on earth do they have to do that? Why isn’t a library card good enough?
Last week it emerged that the number of 10 to 18-year-olds placed on the DNA database after being arrested will have reached around 1.5 million this time next year. Since 2004 police have had the power to take DNA samples from anyone over the age of 10 who is arrested, regardless of whether they are later charged, convicted, or found to be innocent.
Concern over the issue of civil liberties will be further amplified by news yesterday that commuters using Oyster smart cards could have their movements around cities secretly monitored under new counter-terrorism powers being sought by the security services.
Millions of commuters could have their private movements around cities secretly monitored under new counter-terrorism powers being sought by the security services.
Records of journeys made by people using smart cards that allow 17 million Britons to travel by underground, bus and train with a single swipe at the ticket barrier are among a welter of private information held by the state to which MI5 and police counter-terrorism officers want access in order to help identify patterns of suspicious behaviour.
One solution being debated in Whitehall is an unprecedented unlocking of data held by public bodies, such as the Oyster card records maintained by Transport for London and smart cards soon to be introduced in other cities in the UK, for use in the war against terror. The Office of the Information Commissioner, the watchdog governing data privacy, confirmed last night that it had discussed the issue with government but declined to give details, citing issues of national security.
Currently the security services can demand the Oyster records of specific individuals under investigation to establish where they have been, but cannot trawl the whole database. But supporters of calls for more sharing of data argue that apparently trivial snippets – like the journeys an individual makes around the capital – could become important pieces of the jigsaw when fitted into a pattern of other publicly held information on an individual’s movements, habits, education and other personal details. That could lead, they argue, to the unmasking of otherwise undetected suspects.
Critics, however, fear a shift towards US-style ‘data mining’, a controversial technique using powerful computers to sift and scan millions of pieces of data, seeking patterns of behaviour which match the known profiles of terrorist suspects. They argue that it is unfair for millions of innocent people to have their privacy invaded on the off-chance of finding a handful of bad apples.
‘It’s looking for a needle in a haystack, and we all make up the haystack,’ said former Labour minister Michael Meacher, who has a close interest in data sharing. ‘Whether all our details have to be reviewed because there is one needle among us – I don’t think the case is made.’
Jago Russell, policy officer at the campaign group Liberty, said technological advances had made ‘mass computerised fishing expeditions’ easier to undertake, but they offered no easy answers. ‘The problem is what do you do once you identify somebody who has a profile that suggests suspicions,’ he said. ‘Once the security services have identified somebody who fits a pattern, it creates an inevitable pressure to impose restrictions.’
Individuals wrongly identified as suspicious might lose high-security jobs, or have their immigration status brought into doubt, he said. Ministers are also understood to share concerns over civil liberties, following public opposition to ID cards, and the debate is so sensitive that it may not even form part of Brown’s published strategy.
MPs are demanding large pay rises to compensate for having their much-criticised system of perks and allowances scrapped, it emerged last night.
Let’s get this straight – because they have to now justify expenses of over £25 (previously they only had to justify £250 and above), they want a pay rise of £40,000!
Nice work if you can get it.
A day after the publication of the “John Lewis” list detailing the generous entitlements politicians can claim to furnish second homes, many are calling for a salary increase of as much as £40,000.
The list, used to rule on expenses claims based on prices at John Lewis, includes £100 coffee makers and £750 plasma televisions.
And they need coffee makers and plasma televisions because of work-related reasons, do they?
It was released at the same time as review is being undertaken of MPs’ expenses in the wake of the Derek Conway affair. He was censured for paying tens of thousands of pounds to his sons despite no evidence of them doing any work.
The Daily Telegraph understands that a number of MPs have approached the whips offices of all parties to suggest the expenses system be scrapped and their salaries increased to as much as £100,000 – a pay rise of nearly £40,000 – to allow them to bear the costs themselves of running a second home.
Other MPs are proposing a £160-a-day allowance to replace the £23,000 a year they can claim to run a second home. Martin Salter, the Labour member for Reading West,
It would be odd if Martin Salter had a second home, given that it takes about 45 mins to get from Reading to Westminster. I am sure he hasn’t.
said: “I think there is a case for MPs actually being paid more and then having to fund their London allowance out of their own income.
“You’ll be hard-pressed to find a chief executive who’s on less than £100,000. We’re certainly [paid] less than head teachers and many deputy head teachers.”
Tell you what, prove you are worth it. Now, Martin Salter’s record seems ok, in terms of attendance and responding to letters. But a lot of them aren’t so good.
At the EU Summit in Brussels, Gordon Brown agreed for the need to end the secrecy around MPs’ perks and allowances, saying: “I welcome all efforts to increase transparency in this area.
“The more open, the more transparent and the more we provide information to the public about how public money is spent the better it is for all of us.”
Never a truer word said! I take it Gordon will persuade his colleagues to release the OGC Gateway Reviews?