August 26th, 2008

To DNA or not to DNA

Posted in The Job - General by 200

Those that have read this blog for any time will know that I’ve never been afraid of espousing an unpopular view, you just need to take a look at my thoughts on the legalisation of drugs if proof were required.

I feel that this post won’t be the most popular amongst serving officers, at least not judging by the opinions I’ve heard over the years.

The DNA Database, hmmm.

There is an argument for the collection of DNA from every resident in the country. It comes from certain quarters in the government & law enforcement. There is no doubt that if everyone’s DNA was on record we would solve an awful lot more crimes. The question is whether it is acceptable for the government/police to hold our DNA for purely speculative searching.

Currently, anyone processed for an arrestable offence is liable to have their DNA taken. If they are subsequently released without charge or found innocent at court, they have no rights to have their DNA samples destroyed. There are cases of completely innocent people having their DNA taken, enquiries have revealed, for instance, a case of mistaken identity, and they have been released but their DNA remains on file, for ever.

When the DNA database was first set up, the police were required to destroy samples of anyone found to be innocent, much like fingerprint records. An audit around this time found that 80,000 samples were never destroyed & held illegally. This was changed by legislation and now nobody has the right to have their sample destroyed.

A recent case which appeared in the dailies at the beginning of August featured a Tory MP, Greg Hands, who provided a DNA sample to the police after his uncle was murdered; he was eliminated from suspicion but has failed to get the police to destroy his sample. He said: “It seems to me that the Home Office and police are building up a national, universal DNA database by stealth. They are trying to get all 60million of us on it by hook or by crook. Parliament has never approved a universal DNA database.”

Supporters of a universal system say that if you have done nothing wrong, what have you got to worry about. But they miss the deeper, ethical issues. DNA is not only a record of my identity, it is a complete code which reveals much more than will be of use in a murder trial. My genetic makeup can reveal details of my ethnicity, of family connections & of my propensity for certain diseases.

It is wrong to discriminate on the basis of genetic heritage yet we already see insurance companies  having access to genetic information & refusing to insure people based potential medical conditions.

There have already been cases of the police carrying out medical tests on genetic material without the knowledge of the subject. In one case a witness in court found out he was HIV positive because a sample he had provided in an unrelated matter for which he was not charged, was tested & a lawyer let the cat out of the bag.

With the government’s willingness to either ‘lose’ extremely personal information or give it to foreign countries (USA), or their willingness to flaunt legislation (the 80,000 samples held illegally) who can trust them to keep your genetic information a secret between you & them?

There is a balance to be had between the need to be able to solve crime & the rights & privacy’s of the individual. I think the collection & preservation of DNA from people who are completely innocent tips the balance the wrong way.

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  1. MarkUK says:

    As a “whinging liberal” (I don’t always whinge and some of my views are definitely less than liberal) I fully agree with your challenge to DNA samples.

    I have no issues with convicted criminals having their DNA kept on file, in just the same way as fingerprints are. If I am not guilty of a crime, what business is it of anyone what my DNA sequence is?

    The “If you’ve nothing to hide…” argument cuts little ice with me. 65 years ago, six million Jews had nothing to hide except their heritage. What would Hitler have given for a DNA register?

    I’m not saying that the present or next government would misuse DNA databases, much less the current police force. Who, though, can tell what kind of monsters will be in power in 10-15 years time? A universal DNA database is a very nasty genie let out of the bottle.

    Insurance companies have already been sniffing round the existing DNA records. Considering that there is already illegal access to the DVLA and the PNC, why should this database be any more secure?

    Talking of security, 200 Weeks hits the nail on the head. How long will it be before some conscientious but careless Civil Servant loses a laptop full of DNA data with names attached – or simply flogs an old computer at a car boot without wiping the data?

    Sorry, my business is MY business – and that goes for my DNA too.

    August 26th, 2008 at 23:13

  2. John says:

    The records CAN be destroyed, but it is a bit hard:

    And there is a current human rights appeal before the european court, if won about 1 million samples will have to be deleted.

    “The Home Office has been passing on the public’s DNA to commercial companies, sometimes for what appears to constitute ethnic profiling.

    A freedom of information request from the Liberal Democrats has revealed the Home Office accepted 25 out of 45 requests for the DNA from various organisations, including commercial companies. ”$1233776.htm

    August 27th, 2008 at 09:02

  3. Civ_In_The_City says:


    Difficult one. I tend to think that the fact something CAN be done doesn`t add any weight to an argument for it to BE done.

    Ethnic profiling? Any information can be as easily used for evil as for good, is the existence of the information all in one place an evil in itself? You wouldn`t think so if it caught the murderer or rapist of someone dear to you.

    We are already profiled in great detail by retailers, banks, insurance companies etc. Annoyingly they have as much information on us as the DNA database would have. But I don`t think the ‘cat`s already out of the bag’ argument is any justification either.

    I agree with MarkUK about the “if you have nothing to hide” brigade. My innocence doesn`t entitle someone to hold me against my will or search my house (being English I have a castle of course). It`s not a ticket to ride roughshod over my civil liberties.

    The onus is on the police to find the guilty person, not eliminate 61 million innocent ones. It`s like Tescos not wanting to risk anyone reacting to peanuts in their products, so they just label every single item with ‘may contain nuts’.

    Fact is (I think) that crimes that leave detectable levels of DNA are carried out by a small percentage of the population. A lot of your ‘persistent offenders’ are already well known to the police, you don`t need DNA to find them, just knock on their door.

    What we`re left with is most kinds of sexual offenders. Maybe we capture their DNA at the earliest warning signs, not with a big red ‘PERVERT’ sticker on it, just a discreet record.

    But wouldn`t being on that database be against their human rights?

    And round we go again…..

    August 27th, 2008 at 21:58

  4. Agent Douane says:

    I do not agree with the retention of DNA where a charge is not bought or a person is found innocent. If records are sold on to insurance conpanies and others that is corrupt. The system was set up for the public’s protection, not to make money.

    August 27th, 2008 at 22:36

  5. John says:

    Taking the “if you’ve nowt to hide” argument to its illogical conclusion:
    “If you know your dna isn’t in any evidence bag you’ve no reason to refuse it, and less reason to deny us making any money from it”
    In any case, human rights (like health and safety) is something we’ve been conditioned (by gov/press/etc) to regard as a screen for people to hide behind.
    After all, the gov has only got our best interests to heart, hasn’t it ?.
    And if you suspect it hasn’t, why vote for them ?.
    Since most people in government (not only those elected to despise us) regard us as less than human, why do we need rights ?

    August 28th, 2008 at 08:50

  6. MarkUK says:


    How I agree with you that both human rights legislation and health & safety legislation/regulations are denigrated by the press – with some prompting from – errrrrr – an unknown source.

    As someone who has many H&S responsibilities, I have the greatest regard for GOOD H&S actions, and nothing but contempt for pettifogging rules justified by “elfnsafety”.

    That’s why the HSE has its “Myth of the Month”

    August 31st, 2008 at 22:16

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