It's time to delete innocents from the DNA database

DnaThe latest report from the Human Genetics Commission, the Government's official genetics advisory body, has piled on further pressure for the deletion of the one million DNA samples of innocent people held on the DNA database. It's long overdue for these samples to be deleted, for a host of reasons.


It is both wrong and ineffective to continue to hold people's details if they have never been found guilty of any crime - especially if they are in fact witnesses who have been sampled as part of coming forward.


Given the recent news that the Home Office has been flogging samples from the database to private companies without the permission of the people on the database, not only have the innocent people on the database had their most personal information abused but there is surely a danger that people will think twice about coming forward if the only reward is to be swabbed then have your sample sold to the highest bidder.


There are serious concerns about the accountability and mission-creep of the DNA database as a whole, and the recent rumblings about the way innocent people are treated perhaps represents a turning point. For example, did you know that the creation of the database was never debated in Parliament? Or that there was, until last year, no ethical committee or group to monitor the way the database and its contents are used, despite it having been established in 2001?


DNA is undoubtedly an extremely useful tool in investigating crimes and prosecuting dangerous criminals. The way the DNA database acts, though - loading itself full of innocent people, witnesses and children; refusing to give those who voluntarily submit samples to help an investigation the right to have their samples deleted when the investigation is over; selling people's personal DNA samples to private companies - is in danger of undermining the valid uses of the technology. All these extra functions also cost a lot of money purely to monitor the innocent, which could be much better spent actually dealing with those we know to be guilty - as we pointed out in our recent report The Cost of Big Brother Government.


The unfortunate fact is that the old "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear" blarney simply isn't true. I can think of a host of things to fear: having to pay through the nose for unnecessary technology projects; having my personal data hawked around the marketplace without my permission and used in various research projects; someone losing or stealing my most personal, most irreplaceable data; and, finally and most worrying of all, going through all this cost, angst and intrusion only to see people actually involved in terrorism and crime keep getting away with it because the authorities are too focused on shiny hi-tech measures that impact on the innocent to properly deal with the guilty.

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