Britain to hold DNA of innocents for 6 years
Britain said Wednesday it plans to keep DNA profiles of innocent people for at least six years instead of indefinitely despite a European Court ruling branding the retention as a violation of human rights.
The DNA of terror suspects — people who aren't necessarily accused of terrorism — could be held indefinitely. Britain has one of the largest DNA databases in the world with more than 4.5 million profiles on file — larger than that of the United States.
"I believe the proposals I am announcing today represent the most proportionate approach to DNA retention," said Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
He said the proposals will ensure the database continues to help in tackling crime. The Home Office said it proposed to remove the DNA profiles of all adults arrested but not charged or convicted of any recordable offence after six years.
The proposals came after the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last year that keeping DNA samples and fingerprints was a violation of the right to privacy. The protection is guaranteed under the Human Rights Convention, which Britain has signed.
The court also criticized Britain's use of blanket and indiscriminate storage. More than one million DNA samples have come from people who were never charged with a crime or were acquitted. Many of the samples were taken from juveniles.
Rights groups criticized the governments decision, arguing that it violated the spirit of the court's ruling.
"To hold your DNA for six years we think is disproportionate," said Anna Fairclough, a DNA expert at the civil rights group, Liberty. She said the proposal will likely face opposition when it goes to the Parliament.
"If it is passed, it will result inevitably in more litigation," she added. The government said that DNA data is essential for fighting crime and providing justice for victims.
The Home Office said that between April 1998 and September 2009 there were more than 410,589 crimes with DNA matches, providing the police with leads on the identities of offenders.
"Clearly the system is giving the police quite a lead with the possible identity of offenders," Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman Simon Lewis said.