Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are DNA retention changes being kicked to the long grass?

One of the complaints of some during the election was the crossover between all the three parties on certain issues and the lack of clear dividing lines in some cases. However, one of the definitive lines of difference between the parties of the Coaltion and Labour was, it seemed, on the retention of DNA.

The Labour Manifesto argued for the status quo and that they would "retain for six years the DNA profiles of those arrested but not convicted." Meanwhile, the Lib Dems said they would "introduce a balanced approach to the retention of people’s DNA" (whatever that means it suggests change from the status quo at least); and the Tories said they would "give people on the database who have been wrongly accused of a minor crime an automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn" and "Remove innocent people from the police DNA database."

The Tory position is essentially the Scottish model on this issue, which is that DNA is retained for a maximum 3 years where arrest is for serious offences with the periodic removal of the DNA of those later found innocent, and the end to the retention of someone arrested for a motoring offence having their DNA held when they've not really done anything particularly wrong.

However, where exactly are the Coaltion Government on this? There was no specific mention of what was planned in the Queen's Speech bar a vague reference to civil liberties and as yet there does not appear to be any draft legislation to make these changes. OK, they;re busy dealing with the deficit you might say, but when questioned about what is happening there seems to be a little bit of avoidance going on.

Jacqui Smith's replacement Tory MP in Redditch, Karen Lumley, for example asked the Home Office about the progress made "reviewing the retention on the national DNA database of records of those who have been neither charged nor convicted of a crime", and the response from James Brokenshire was simply a restatement of a commitment to the Scottish model and that they would introduce "detailed proposals shortly".

Then we had David Morris MP who asked the Home Secretary "how many records on the national DNA database she expects to be destroyed in the next 12 months." Brokenshire responding again said,
At present, a DNA profile will be retained indefinitely unless the relevant Chief Officer of Police as data owner decides to authorise its deletion from the National DNA Database.

The Government are committed to a policy on retention of DNA profiles that provides the protections of the Scottish model, under which the profiles from those arrested but not convicted are only retained in serious cases and for a limited period. We will bring forward shortly detailed proposals for legislative change to give effect to our policy.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this suggests a U-Turn, but by avoiding actually answering the question which was about the time frame of the next 12 months it has to make you wonder how strong the commitment really is.

The cynic in me would say that civil liberties campaigner shouldn't hold their breath that innocent DNA profiles will be removed anytime in the next twelve months and that the phrase "kicking an issue to the long grass" may in fact be appropriate very soon.


For information on Scottish model see Big Brother Watch.
Thanks to Alex Deane for pointing out the Karen Lumley question to me.

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