UK Liberty

National DNA Database ethics

Posted in database state, law and order by ukliberty on July 23, 2008

The Times:

In a second blow to the storage of crime records, the Ethics Group, a government-appointed advisory body, gave warning that keeping DNA samples of people arrested but never charged or convicted is a potential breach of human rights laws.

You can find their paper on the Parliament website.  There is some background on,

not only … forensic DNA itself but also about how the UK arrived at the present situation. Because of this, the report, as appropriate, includes information on the statutory and operational matrix within which DNA is taken and processed for forensic purposes.

Similar to criminal records retention,

there is no compulsion on the police to take [a DNA sample without consent from all persons  arrested for a recordable offence], although custom and practice is such that this is now routine. Similarly, there is no compulsion on the police to load the profile of a custodial sample, once taken and processed, onto the NDNAD, but again, this is now routine.

The difficulty of removal also applies to those arrested but not charged or convicted. For their profile to be removed from the NDNAD and the sample destroyed, the individual has to apply to the Chief Constable who ‘owns’ all the DNA profiles and samples originating in his or her jurisdiction. The policy is that requests are only acceded to if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.

They make a number of recommendations:

Recommendation A: There needs to be a better and more transparent classification of DNA profiles and samples which are provided voluntarily: public understanding of the term ‘voluntary sample’ would benefit from a closer definition and separation into specific categories.

Recommendation B: For those members of the public who are believed to be innocent at the time of sampling and voluntarily donate their DNA to help the police with their enquiries, the presumption should shift to an expectation that these samples will be used only for the case under investigation, that the profile will not be loaded onto the NDNAD, and that the samples and all data derived from them will be destroyed when the case has ended.

Recommendation C: There should be a specific consent form for competent adults who are not suspected of the crime under investigation when they agree to give a volunteer DNA sample.

Worth noting that currently “Once loaded, the law removes the rights of the individual to revoke their voluntarily given consent.”

Recommendation D: The consent form enclosed in Appendix C, Annex 1 is proposed as a template for the purposes of Recommendation C.

Recommendation E: There is an urgent need for better information for the public, the police, volunteers and custodial subjects on the use and limitations of forensic DNA analysis. Where relevant, this should accompany the sampling process.

Recommendation F: The identification and process control of DNA samples and profiles should be reviewed with a view to ensuring that confidentiality and individual privacy are preserved as far as possible and within clear controls

Recommendation G: A clearer, simpler and less cumbersome process needs to be put in place to enable those who wish to appeal against the decision of a Chief Constable to retain their DNA profile on the NDNAD.

Recommendation H: Consideration should be given to reviewing the definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ensuring that the reasons for the retention of data and samples are aligned with data protection legislation, human rights legislation and the concept of proportionality.

Recommendation I: Consideration should be given to further public clarification of the role of the NDNAD and reinforcement of the message that it is intended only to be used for criminal intelligence.

Recommendation J: Consideration should be given to formally announcing publicly that the NDNAD will only be used for the currently described purposes (i.e. criminal intelligence) and will never transform into a repository for the whole nation’s DNA characteristics.

Recommendation K: The ethics application form set out in Appendix C, Annex 2, should be accepted as a suitable template by the NDNAD Strategy Board

All very reasonable, yes?


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