Government prepared to debate next steps for DNA database

The government “would welcome debate” on the DNA database, which now holds records on more than 4 million people, home office minister Meg Hillier has told MPs.

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The government “would welcome debate” on the DNA database, which now holds records on more than 4 million people, home office minister Meg Hillier has told MPs.

Hillier told parliament that there were “no government plans for a universal database”, such as that suggested by appeal court judge Lord Justice Sedley earlier this year.

Sedley called for everyone to be included on the database to counteract unfairness resulting from the current situation where people who have been in contact with the police – whether innocent or guilty – have their DNA record added. "It means where there is ethnic profiling going on as disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities get onto the database,” he said in September.

The government has spent more than £300m over the past five years developing and maintaining the database, which is described by the Home Office as “one of the government’s top priorities”.

Hiller told MPs: “I and other ministers would welcome a debate about the DNA database, which has grown... Because it has grown to include more than 4 million people, it is important that we get the chance to debate how we proceed.”

In response to questioning by Conservative MP Stephen Crabb, Hillier said the latest available information on the number of people who had not been convicted of an offence but whose data was held on the DNA database was from June 2006, but did not give figures.

“I have asked officials to provide more up-to-date information as soon as that is available, and I have also asked that data both on those arrested but not subsequently convicted and on those who have been convicted be included in the DNA database annual report from early next year,” she said.

Hillier has also asked civil servants to “look at the design of the forms” on which people who volunteer DNA samples give permission for the information to remain permanently on the database.

Pressed by Crabb on the case of a constituent who had been wrongfully arrested but could not get his DNA information removed from the database, Hillier said that having DNA on the database “does not suggest guilt – it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information”.

The database had been used to solve 452 homicides, 644 rapes and more than 8,000 domestic burglaries, the minister added.

Earlier this year, the government announced draft legislation that would put police use of DNA data for counter-terrorism purposes “on a sound statutory footing” – along with a string of data sharing measures.

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