Monday, November 30, 2009

Report on the UK's National DNA Database

The Human Genetics Commission, an advisory body to the United Kingdom goverment, has just released a report analyzing that country's national DNA database.

Entitled "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Balancing individual rights and the public interest in the governance and use of the National DNA Database", the report proposes a series of improvements for the management and supervision of the database and calls for new guidance for police officers taking DNA samples, as well as closer monitoring to make sure they are following it:

"Britain has the largest forensic DNA database in the world in proportion to the size of its population. It is estimated to contain the DNA profiles of over 8 per cent of the UK population. For some groups this is much higher: the profiles of over three quarters of young black men between the ages of 18 and 35 are recorded. Currently, anyone arrested for a ‘recordable offence’ in England and Wales can have their DNA taken and retained indefinitely."

"The National DNA Database provides the police with an important investigative tool to identify suspects for a variety of crimes including the most serious, such as rape, murder and terrorist offences. In some cases, the database is the only means by which a suspect can be identified and brought into an inquiry."

"The UK Parliament has never actually debated the establishment of the database as such – it came about through amendments to legislation that was originally designed to codify powers and duties of the police at a time before ‘DNA fingerprinting’ had been invented. Since then, many groups and individual members of the public, as well as the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), have expressed concerns about the police’s powers to keep and use DNA samples, and the profiles derived from them, especially when no court has found them guilty of an offence. "

"Balancing personal privacy and public protection is not easy. The National DNA Database has now been the subject of a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights that strongly criticises the way the UK has tried to strike this balance. The UK must now decide how it will respond."

Earlier Library Boy posts about DNA databases include:

  • Only 15% of UK Public Sector Databases Respect Privacy Laws (March 24, 2009): "According to a report published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust in the United Kingdom, 11 of the 46 biggest public sector databases maintained by the British government, including the national DNA database, clearly breach data protection and privacy rights laws."
  • Library of Parliament Publication on Forensic DNA Analysis (March 31, 2009): "The use of DNA identification was further expanded in 2000 with the establishment of the National DNA Data Bank, which allows investigators to rapidly screen DNA evidence against the DNA records of thousands of previously convicted criminals and evidence from other crimes (...) This paper examines three areas in which new DNA investigation methods are already changing the application of forensic DNA analysis internationally, or are likely to do so in the near future..."
  • Parliamentary Committee Report on DNA Identification Act (July 22, 2009): "The most recent issue of the Weekly Checklist of Government Publications includes the June 2009 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security entitled Statutory Review of the DNA Identification Act: (...) The National DNA Data Bank (hereinafter the NDDB) is an extremely effective investigation tool upon which police can rely to further their investigations or exonerate a suspect. The information contained in the NDDB has also prompted the exoneration of persons who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime (...) It [the report] underscores the urgency of investing additional funds in the forensic laboratories and the NDDB without delay to ensure the proper functioning of the justice in this regard. It proposes recommendations designed to maximize the benefits that forensic science derives from DNA analysis. The report also expresses the Committee’s faith in DNA science, and its considered opinion that the NDDB is an extremely useful and important tool for the criminal justice system"

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 12:27 pm


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