Britain Denies U-Turn Over Vow to Remove Innocent People's Records from DNA Database

by jeeg 26. July 2011 20:41

Britain's government was accused Tuesday of breaking a promise to stop keeping the DNA records of people arrested for crimes but later found innocent.

Britain's DNA database is one of the largest in the world, containing genetic profiles of more than five million people, or 8 per cent of the population. Samples are taken from everyone arrested for a crime, and the information is usually retained even if the person is acquitted or freed without charge.

Critics of the practice - including Alec Jeffreys, the scientist who discovered DNA fingerprinting - say it unfairly taints hundreds of thousands of innocent people with the suggestion of guilt.

After an outcry from civil libertarians, the government last year promised to delete the DNA profiles of up to 1 million innocent people.

But a government minister has said that while the physical DNA samples will be deleted and their electronic profiles removed from the country's central database, the profiles could still be kept by local forensic science labs, albeit with the names removed.

But blotting out suspects' names would not necessarily be irreversible. In the letter obtained by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire acknowledged that it would still theoretically be possible to trace each sample back to an individual because they were each tagged with an identifying bar code.

It was not clear why the labs would not be asked to delete the profiles. Home Office officials did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.

Privacy group Big Brother Watch accused the government of a "disgraceful U-turn."

"Destroying physical DNA samples is a pointless gesture if the computer records are to be retained," said the group's director, Daniel Hamilton.

But the government insisted it was keeping its promise.

"Our position has not changed at all. We will retain the DNA of the guilty, not the innocent," the Home Office said in a statement. "That means DNA records of the innocent will come off the database and physical samples will be deleted."

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press



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