Following Monday night’s confused debate on EU Justice and Home Affairs powers it has been revealed that the Government is embarking upon a scheme that would give European states limited access to the UK DNA database and potentially pave the way to a linking of the UK and EU databases.
This is a worrying development, made more so by the fact that, as the Financial Times reported, the move seems to have been made to appease certain member states who were concerned about the UK’s withdrawal from other EU police schemes.
It is disappointing that after sticking to their promise to stay out of the wider Prüm Convention, the Government seems to be getting close to implementing it in all but name, prioritising the wishes of other states over the safety of its own citizens.
Over the weekend you may have read about the Government’s plans for more policing powers to be transferred over to the EU, including the prospect of the UK joining a Europe-wide DNA database. Considering a debate is planned for Thursday on the current set of Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs, these plans seem absurdly premature.
You can read our briefing note on the reported plans and our concerns about the problems with the current system here.
There are some fundamental problems with the UK’s DNA database (DNAD) that need urgently addressing before the Government even thinks about allowing EU Member States to have direct access to the data. These problems are outlined in our 2012 report (pdf), which was published following the reforms made by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The Prüm Treaty may yet be implemented in the UK as a report shows that the European Commission plans to force the UK to allow other member states access to personal details of every motorist in Britain as well as access to the national DNA database and fingerprint records.
The Home Secretary has indicated that she is minded to opt out of the European Home Affairs Injustice measures in 2014, a step that would enable a full and frank discussion on how to sufficiently protect the rights of UK citizens. We can now hope that the Home Secretary will share the same robustness towards the European Commission on this matter.
Across the country, police forces are now busy tracking down people to hand over a DNA sample, not based on any current suspicion of committing an offence but purely because of historical offences that took place decades ago.
The civil liberties implications of this kind of operation are clear. People, currently not under suspicion for any crime and who have served their punishment for past offences, are now hunted down simply in the hope that the force will get lucky and clear up a case.
However, there is also a wider point. A pilot scheme carried out by Hampshire police gathered 167 samples, however none of them matched any outstanding crimes. Now call us pedants, but as pilot schemes go that doesn’t sound like a success. Indeed, you might even suggest that it was a waste of police time. The initial list was 471 people, but for various reasons – including people being dead – the force didn’t manage to collect even half their intended samples.
Our report on the DNA Database highlighted how the database has continued to grow in recent years, and that despite the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act innocent people still have no timetable for when their DNA will be removed from the database.
We’re delighted to support GeneWatch’s ‘Reclaim your DNA’ campaign,which aims to bring about the swift removal of innocent people from the DNA database and the associated systems.
There are two ways to get involved. Firstly, write to your MP and ask them to write to the Home Secretary on your behalf.(You can find who your MP is here) We have drafted a letter to your MP for you to use that you can download here.
The three key questions you should ask are:
- When will your DNA and fingerprint records be removed from police databases;
- When will your DNA sample will be destroyed;
- When will new police guidance be issued requiring the removal of your record of arrest from the Police National Computer (PNC)
You should also write to the Chief Constable of the police force who took your sample. (We’ve produced a template letter here.) If you don’t know who the relevant Chief Constable is you can find the individual police force websites here.
Children and young people, or their parents, who were given a conviction, reprimand or final warning for a single minor offence more than three years ago can also ask these questions.
Note: the new law does not require the removal of records from adults who have accepted a caution from the police, and people arrested for serious offences can have their records retained for three years in the first instance, or a further two if there is approval by a Magistrate’s court. However you will be entitled to be notified that an application for retention has been made.
Today Big Brother Watch publishes our report looking at the DNA Database, following the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act through Parliament.
While the Coalition agreement pledged to introduce the Scottish model, what was passed into law within the Protection of Freedoms Act retains the uncertainty of the previous system, with discretionary powers to retain DNA without judicial oversight where it is deemed to be in the interests of national security or other such criteria as issued by the Home Secretary.
Furthermore, despite more than 900,000 new people being added to the database in the past three years, there remains no timetable for implementing the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act and our research suggests that the cost of implementation could be double Home Office estimates. Responding to our Freedom of Information Act request, just three forces able to distinguish records of those never charged from those convicted.
The Protection of Freedoms Act is a welcome step towards restoring long-held civil liberties, but the Coalition has failed to fulfill its pledge to reform the DNA database in line with the Scottish system. It should not be for the police to have the final say if someone’s DNA will be retained and the discretionary powers available to the Home Secretary risk this becoming far too commonplace.
Our research suggests that the overwhelming majority of police forces are unable to separate the records of people never charged from those found guilty in court. It would be unacceptable for reform to be delayed or watered down even further because of poor decisions made when the DNA database was first set up. This should be taken as an opportunity to fundamentally review the entire system before the number of innocent people caught up in it grows even larger.
It is deeply troubling that very soon English and Welsh citizens could find that their details are retained and shared in situations where someone from Scotland or another country would not have to worry about something that happened many years in the past.
First the Coalition ditched its commitment to reforming the DNA database and now the Home Office is handing over access to very sensitive personal information to police forces across Europe.
Despite more than a million innocent people’s DNA remaining on the database, and huge concerns around the operation of extradition law, the Coaltion has indicated it will implement the 2008 Prum Treaty. You might share our surprise at this, given that in opposition then Tory shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve warned: ‘There is a real risk that a disproportionate number of innocent British citizens will be sucked into foreign criminal investigations.’
Prum is described as a ‘fast-track’ scheme to allow European states to ask another state to check a DNA sample against their database and pass on the results.
A fast-track scheme is how the European Arrest Warrant was described, only for it to be grossly abused at the expense of the liberty of British people. This is yet another risk to our rights to a fair trial, in the name of European compliance.
The news comes days after it emerged a teenager has spent three months in jail for an offence he didn’t commit after a DNA database mix up. The Daily Mail has reported how the nineteen year old was found guilty of rape, in a city that he had never visited, after his DNA sample was mixed with that of the attacker’s.
Writing on the Huffington Post, I argue that the Coalition is not being properly held to account for it’s decision to abandon the committment in the Coalition Agreement to implement the Scottish model for the retention of biometric material.
“As the Bill currently stands, there is a real risk of back-door indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA material – without judicial oversight – through the broad exemptions that have been included. It does not offer the same protections as the Scottish system.
Before the election, then Shadow Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government “has been obsessed with growing the DNA database for the sake of it regardless of guilt or innocence.”
He asked “just how many more DNA profiles of the innocent have to be added before the Government is prepared to act?”
I am sure several Peers will be keen to ask the Government the same question.”
You can read the full article here .
On the DNA Database, the Coalition agreement was unequivocal: “We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.”
However, since then the Government has had second thoughts, and has been persuaded of the case for retaining the DNA of innocent people far and above the Scottish system.
Today’s report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on the Protection of Freedoms Bill argues that the proposed ‘catch all’ discretion for police to keep DNA of innocent people on the grounds of national security is neither necessary or proportionate.
We would agree. Exactly how you can be both a threat to national security and innocent is a paradox the police and the Government have failed to explain.
Many thanks to the Big Brother Watch supporter who this morning kindly sent us a link to a fascinating section of the National Policing Improvement Agency's website.
On the website, you can find a map of the 43 Police forces across the UK and information about the way in which they use the national DNA database. The information for each county is broken down by the by gender, current age and visual appearance of individuals included on the database.
You can find the data here.
Do let us know if you find any gems.