DNA database is welcome in Ireland but it will need safeguards

by jeeg 9. September 2013 23:37

THE Irish Innocence Project welcomes the new DNA database bill, last heard of in 2010. In the US and UK, many people have been exonerated by so-called "cold-searching" of DNA databases.

In addition, actual perpetrators have also been eventually discovered when a DNA database search matched with the crime-scene DNA.

Furthermore, DNA of other individuals found at a crime scene can also assist in showing that someone has been wrongfully incarcerated – particularly if that other DNA is found in multiple crime scenes.

Nevertheless, The Irish Innocence Project is conscious that any such database is in conformity with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision in Marper v United Kingdom where it was held that the indefinite retention by the then British system of the DNA of suspected – but not convicted persons – violated the right to privacy of such persons.

Thus, although there is universal agreement about the retention of the DNA of convicted persons, the retention of DNA from non-convicted persons, which includes a multitude of different people, including suspects, raises genuine concern as to the length of time such material can be retained.

In the UK, The Protection of Freedom Act 2012 provides that profiles taken from people arrested for, or charged with, a minor offence will be destroyed "as soon as reasonably practical" and those charged but not convicted for a serious offence will have their DNA profiles retained for three years (a period which may be extended by a chief constable). The act further provides that the DNA profile of a volunteer will be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled its purpose. Finally, the sample from which a profile was obtained has to be destroyed as soon as possible, or by six months regardless.

In contrast to these narrow retention periods, the 2010 Irish bill proposed the retention of samples for three years and profiles for 10 years – periods that are far too long in light of the Marper case.

Marper also highlights but does not resolve the use of DNA for familial profiling which affects privacy interests and which the 2010 bill ostensibly allows for. Further, there is the possibility of racial profiling which impacts not just privacy but equality considerations.

Finally, any new bill should endorse the Law Reform Commission Report that crime scene samples and the DNA extracted from those samples in case of any claimed miscarriage of justice are retained.

David Langwallner, Irish Independent

 

 

 

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