Damian Green MP has successfully persuaded the Metropolitan Police to remove his details from the database of DNA profiles. He calls this “a significant victory for freedom”. Elsewhere, Shami Chakrabati, Director of Liberty, points out you shouldn’t need to be in “Who’s Who” to get your details cancelled.
At present, the law – passed by Parliament – says that those arrested by the police are required to give a sample of their DNA and that the profile thus obtained is normally retained whether or not the individual concerned is subsequently charged or convicted. Damian Green was famously arrested in relation to police inquiries following the leaking of official documents from the Home Office. He was not in the event charged when the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
Incidentally, I don’t remember the Conservatives kicking up much of a fuss when the legislation was originally passed – now, of course, they believe it to be an appalling affront to civil liberties.
Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (an institution about which most Tories are normally distinctly luke-warm), the Government is now consulting about how long such profiles should be retained.
The profiles are not, of course, the full DNA profile but simply a series of ten or twenty two-digit numbers giving sufficient data to identify an individual uniquely.
Many serious crimes – some of them quite old – have been solved using the information on the database. If Damian Green’s DNA were now found at a crime scene (I hasten to emphasise that I am NOT suggesting that it will be), he would escape detection. Likewise, if advances in DNA technology made it possible to extract his DNA from an historic murder or rape scene (repeat disclaimer), again he would escape detection.
And that is the dilemma: a large database is helping to catch serious criminals, but people are concerned that the data of people who have never been charged of a crime are being stored along with the data of the most heinous of offenders. One way of resolving this would, of course, be to retain data on every individual resident in or visiting the country, the presence of data on the database would not then be discriminatory and it would be a substantial help in identifying criminals. Those who do not commit crimes would have nothing to fear and those that do would be deterred knowing that the risk of detection would be higher.
More likely, however, is that the database will be restricted and that as a result crimes will rise as more criminals remain undetected.
It would be a delicious irony, although it is no doubt a very remote prospect, that in a few years time Damian Green will be a Home Office Minister (that is the remote bit) and will have to stand up in the House of Commons to defend the failures of the police to catch someone at long last convicted of a series of revolting and violent crimes, who would have been caught much earlier had the DNA taken, when he was arrested (but not charged) some years before for an unrelated issue, been retained. No doubt, he will reiterate that the destruction of that individual’s DNA data was also “a significant victory for freedom”.