The British government said it would end the policy of indefinitely storing the DNA of people arrested but then cleared of crimes, following criticism from the European human rights court.
“Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said authorities would wipe out DNA and fingerprint samples of people who are arrested but not convicted of most crimes after six years,” reported the Associated Press. “Those arrested for serious crimes, including sexual violence and terrorism, will only have their details removed after twelve years, even if they are not convicted.”
However, civil liberties groups and political opponents said this was still too long and accused the government of dodging real reform.
The European court condemned Britain in a ruling last December for not destroying DNA samples of Michael Marper, a man accused but never charged of harassing his partner, and an unnamed 11-year-old acquitted of theft.
‘In one of the clearest ever condemnations of UK law, the court’s grand chamber of 17 judges said it had been ’struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature’ of the government’s powers to take and keep DNA samples and digital profiles from anyone arrested in the UK (except Scotland) – a policy that has so far led to almost a million innocent people’s details being entered on a national DNA database,” reported the Guardian.
“The court said that because of the sensitive information contained in the biological samples used to generate DNA profiles, including information about health, race and sex, retaining these interfered with the right to respect for an individual’s private life. Under the current law the samples, usually taken from mouth swabs, can be kept indefinitely, even if a person is under 18 or never charged with an offence.”
The Strasbourg court noted Britain was the only one of the 47 members of the Council of Europe to authorize the indefinite preservation of personal data logged in police files of anyone suspected of committing an offense.
It ruled “there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
“The current UK database holds some 4.5m records and has provided 400,000 crime scene matches over a decade,” reported the BBC.
“Supporters say it has played a key role in some ‘cold case’ crimes where serious offenders have been caught – or innocent people cleared – many years after the original investigation.”
Shami Chakrabarti, head of civil liberties group Liberty, said: “Wholly innocent people — including children — will have their most intimate details stockpiled for years on a database that will remain massively out of step with the rest of the world.”