Parliamentary Briefing: Home Affairs Select Committee's Inquiry into the National DNA database

The National DNA Database ('the database') is the largest of its kind in the world.  It has been expanded significantly in the past five years and contains DNA samples and profiles (the information about the DNA sample) of about 5 million individuals.

The Commission acknowledges that the database is an important crime-solving tool.  Taking and retaining DNA from suspected criminals pursues a legitimate purpose of detecting and preventing crime.  However, the current blanket system of retaining all DNA samples and profiles indefinitely is not a proportionate means of achieving that aim.  In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this system as it applied to individuals who had never been convicted of a crime, particularly children, could not be justified and was a breach of their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) . 

In revising the law on taking and retaining biometric material, Parliament needs to strike a fair balance between the legitimate aim of detecting and preventing crime and the public interest in protecting individuals’ right to privacy.  Without such balance the UK will be in breach of the Convention.

The Commission welcomes many of the proposals in the Crime and Security Bill 2009 that relate to the taking and retention of DNA, particularly the destruction of all DNA samples after a maximum of 6 months.  However, other proposed provisions still appear to lack proportionate justification, particularly the 6 year retention period for innocent individuals' DNA profiles.  The lack of a mechanism for independent review of decisions to refuse to destroy data is a significant concern.  If the Bill becomes law without amendment, the Commission considers that the UK will continue to be in breach of Article 8 and be acting unlawfully.

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