UK Liberty

Human Genetics Commission criticises National DNA Database

The Register:

The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) is the Government’s group of independent advisers on developments in human genetics: it is hoped that its “nuanced” critique of government policy will avoid a repetition of the Nutt affair and the Home Secretary will not, on this occasion, go so far as to sack his experts for providing advice that is out of step with his own views.

The HGC report, Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, concludes that although Britain has the largest police DNA database in the world – five million strong and still growing – this has been developed piecemeal without a specific Act of Parliament. The database needs to be regulated on a clear statutory basis and supervised by an independent authority.


On retired police officer told the researchers that in contrast to practices in his early career, it was now “the norm” to arrest people for “everything there is a power to do so” in part to expand the database.

“It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the change in practice is so that the DNA of the offender can be obtained: samples can be obtained after arrest but not if there is a report for summons. It matters not, of course, whether the arrest leads to no action, a caution or a charge, because the DNA is kept on the database anyway,” the ex-copper said.

The report further concludes that:

– There is insufficient evidence at present to be able to say what use it is to hold DNA profiles from different people

– There needs to be very careful consideration of the equality impact of the database and any proposed changes to it

– There needs to be a clear and independent appeals procedure for unconvicted people who want their DNA removed

The Government of course dismisses all criticism.

“We know that the DNA database is a vital crime fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender.”

Which gives us no information on what proportion of those matches turned out to be of any use, exactly (one of) the point the HGC made.