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30 July, 2008

New genetics code?

I'll believe it when it happens, but a 'citizen's inquiry' into the UK's National DNA Database, overseen by the Human Genetics Commission and reported by the Guardian has proposed my ideal amendments.

Firstly, the DNA profile of anyone tested but not convicted of any crime should be deleted; likewise, the profile of anyone with an expired conviction should be deleted. The proposal to add everyone to the Database at birth should be abandoned. It's wrong to presume the potential criminality of the innocent and to continue to criminalise those who have 'repaid their debt to society'.

Additionally, the inquiry recommends handing control of the Database to an independent body, not the police and the Home Office, who have an obvious vested interest and, as the inquiry further notes, "cannot be trusted".

These measures begin to address my principled objection to state agencies compiling personal records at all (beyond the investigation of specific cases, for the duration of those investigations, anyway – I'm an individualist, not an anarchist). A permanent database is simply the wrong basis for a relationship between a state and its citizens: a government should never have ready access to such fundamental power over individuals.

These measures would also have the practical benefit of preventing police 'fishing expeditions': purely speculative attempts to match individuals to evidence from past crime scenes.
I obviously don't have a problem with DNA evidence being used to confirm or eliminate suspects in specific cases, but the suspicion has to come first (and be compelling enough to convince a judge that a DNA sample needs to be taken, 'cos I'm damned if I'd volunteer one), but trawling through the entire Database 'just in case' is unreasonable, not to mention less definitive than is generally perceived.

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