Police forces have been arresting people simply to add them to the controversial DNA database as a result of lax rules that have developed with almost no public scrutiny, the Government’s independent DNA watchdog warns today.
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) also says there is little evidence that the national DNA database, the largest of its kind in the world, is of any use in solving crimes. In its two-year report examining the database, published today, it concludes that allowing police to add anyone arrested to the DNA database damages the assumption of innocence.
The report received testimony from one senior police source, a retired chief superintendent, who said it was “the norm” for officers to arrest someone to obtain their DNA profile.
“It is apparently understood by serving police officers that one of the reasons, if not the reason, for the change in practice is so that the DNA of the offender can be obtained,” said the source, whose identity has been kept secret. “It matters not whether the arrest leads to no action, a caution or a charge, because the DNA is kept anyway.”
The HGC calls for a debate on the rules on taking DNA samples and adding them to the database, which currently holds the data of around 5 million people. It adds that an independent body is needed to oversee the database. The commission also recommends that all police officers be added to the database to foster trust with the communities they serve.
It notes that there is “very little concrete evidence” as to how useful the database is in investigating crime, adding that the database is having a “disproportionate effect” on some groups. Young black men are “highly over-represented”, it says, with more than three-quarters of those aged 18-35 on the database.
Professor Jonathan Montgomery, the chairman of the HGC, said “function creep” of the database had been allowed to take place almost unchecked, as it evolved from a database of offenders to a database of suspects with hardly any legal foundation or scrutiny.
In my view each person owns his or her unique DNA, along with all the rights to it, so police who collect and store it are committing a crime of biological property theft.