A story has just appeared online on the Essex Gazette website, detailing the refusal of Essex Police to answer an eminently reasonable Freedom of Information Request on how many people in Essex have asked to have their DNA removed from the national database.
There are three reasons why I feel it is necessary to blog on this story:
1. Firstly, and possibly most crucially, this FOI request was turned down on account of it being too complex and thus Essex Police took the decision that answering it would take up too much time or cost too much to process.
The trouble is, although the DNA database is vast, it is highly unlikely that the number of people who have requested their DNA be removed is particularly large. It is probably many fewer who have written specifically to the Chief Constable of Essex and a very small number indeed who have actually had their samples removed.
2. In light of this, Essex Police Service's reasons for their refusal become very suspect and even more so when you take into account that the European Court of Human rights has ruled that keeping innocent people's DNA and fingerprints violates Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention (for full details please read this website).
It is at the discretion of Chief Constables, and not that of the Government or of ACPO, over whether they keep DNA on the National Database. Therefore can we reasonably assume the current Chief Constable of Essex, Jim Barker-McCardle, is an advocate of the DNA database and this is why he is ducking the request?
3. Finally, at the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics fringe event, Independent on Sunday columnist John Rentoul, claimed that politics had been disinfected by the Freedom of Information Act, and that there was therefore no further intervention needed. I believe this to be a view shared by many on both sides of the aisle.
However as this story, and other accounts that I have received from my colleagues at the TaxPayers' Alliance have demonstrated, FOI offices and officials are increasingly blocking answering requests; often using time, money and resources as a reason.
It has to be the right of any citizen of this country to know if their DNA is held on a database. It has to be the right of anyone whose DNA is held, and who has not been convicted of a crime, to request that their DNA be removed. The benefits to law enforcement are severely outweighed by the dangers of the information falling into the wrong hands.
And after all, your DNA is among your most personal of identifying characteristics and should not be the property of anyone other than yourself.
By Dylan Sharpe