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Apply Rehabilitation of Offenders Act to retention of DNA records

Comment 27th July 2010

Some time ago Lord Justice Sedley suggested that everyone in the UK should be placed on a DNA database.  He was right to point up the present unfairness in the way that genetic information is stored at present.  However, we must be very wary of moving to complete recording, which would take us a very long way in the direction of a police state.

It would be best to go back and review what we are trying to achieve by recording DNA information, and to set in place some straightforward rules.  I suggest the following, which might strike a successful balance between our civil rights and our need to detect crime:

Rule 1.  All DNA samples taken from a crime scene may be retained until the crime is solved and prosecuted successfully (or is otherwise concluded satisfactorily).

Rule 2.  All DNA samples taken from suspects may be retained until the crime is solved and prosecuted successfully (or is otherwise concluded satisfactorily).

Rule 3.  All DNA samples taken from suspects who are not convicted are to be destroyed at the conclusion of the court case and any immediate appeals.

Rule 4.  All DNA taken from convicted persons may be retained only for the period that is defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and thereafter must be destroyed.

These rules would seem to allow the Police to make valid cross-comparisons with other cases during the period that they hold the samples.  By the same token, samples are not held longer than they need to be.
 

Why does this matter?

We must avoid lapsing into a police state where the government has access to all of our sensitive personal information, and can use or abuse it as it pleases without reference to ourselves.

We must also recognise that there are limts to the accuracy of DNA information, and particularly where the subject DNA is cultivated from minute samples before analysis.  Also, of course, the woeful record of any previous government in terms of data integrity and inadvertent data release need no further explanation here.

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