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.