July 26, 2011

DNA – Don’t Need Any, if you’re innocent…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:39 pm

There were many, many things wrong with New Labour – and perhaps one of their most notable difficulties was their relentless hunger for data – usually about us, the populace – and usually data that we wanted to keep private. Remember ID cards? I certainly do.

Another dance with database  disaster came with the National DNA Database, or NDNAD as it is known. Like most of their wackier ideas, it all seemed so plausible when you glanced at it in your tabloid paper. Everyone arrested for any crime would have their DNA profile recorded in a DNA database, which could then prove to be a valuable tool in drawing officers attention towards certain individuals should their DNA be found at the scene of a future crime… All very laudable…

Except, of course, that is isn’t. All a DNA match tells you is that someone with the same DNA profile (and yes, that does happen) has somehow left some form of DNA evidence in a location where a crime has occurred. It doesn’t mean it was left at the time of the crime of course – nor does it preclude the possibility that the DNA evidence was shed by a person and then transplanted, intentionally or not, to the scene of a crime. It’s not infallible, and whilst certainly  a useful tool, it does not really live up to it’s billing.

Some of you will no doubt want to argue with me on that point – which is fine – but that’s actually not why we’re here.

We’re here because, in a frankly bizarre move, a suspect is profiled at the time of arrest, not conviction – and since the inception of the database, the suspect was denied the ability to have his / her profile removed from the database at the time they were no longer under suspicion – or even if they had been cleared in court. So, people were having their DNA profiles stored on a database used by law agencies, with no means to remove them, despite being absolutely innocent of any crime whatsoever. Most people with an interest in the criminal law will tell you that this is just plain immoral. “Innocent until proven guilty my boy…”

It came as something of a relief to me then when, in December 2008, judges at the European Court of Human Rights ruled this little caper (the retention of profiles forceably taken from innocent people) as illegal. I was further heartened to find that, in their 2010 Manifesto the Conservatives had this to say on the subject:

The indefinite retention of innocent people’s
DNA is unacceptable, yet DNA data provides
a useful tool for solving crimes. We will legislate
to make sure that our DNA database is used
primarily to store information about those who
are guilty of committing crimes rather than
those who are innocent. We will collect the
DNA of all existing prisoners, those under
state supervision who have been convicted of
an offence, and anyone convicted of a serious
recordable offence. We pushed the Government
to end the permanent retention of innocent
people’s DNA , and we will change the guidance
to give people on the database who have been
wrongly accused of a minor crime an automatic
right to have their DNA withdrawn.

True, there was still some way to go in terms of actually making this law in any way compatible with civil liberties. For instance, what’s this nonsense about used “primarily” to store information about those who are guilty of committing crimes? Primarily? What’s your secondary objective then? Why did they only commit to respect people’s right to have their DNA withdrawn from the system if they are found guilty of a minor crime? Are those found innocent of involvement in a major crime somehow less deserving? Like so much from politicians these days, when you actually sat down and read exactly what they were saying, it didn’t really add up. Weasel words, thought I…

So – interesting words, but questions remain. Now read this article in The Guardian.

We currently have a major investigation going on into the integrity of the police, and whether a culture exists of taking illegal payments from media organisations in return for information that should not be disclosed. We’ve had Ian Tomlinson, we’ve had Jean Charles de Menezes… I’m not absolutely convinced that  now is really the best time for us all to be invited to trust the police…

The only way to properly remove someone’s details, to restore them to their correct position of not being unfairly tracked in a state database of criminals – is to destroy the information – utterly, and in it’s entirety. I work as a computer programmer for a living, and I can assure you that if the data exists to theoretically allow for the the identity information to be re-associated with a specific profile, then it’s a trivial task in computing to actually bring the two together.

The information MUST be destroyed. Yes, I know that’s inconvenient, and I know it’s a hassle… So is having your most personal information stored by the state against your will when you have been found legally innocent of a crime, or indeed perhaps not even prosecuted in the first place.

It’s write to your MP time again folks!


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