back to article 'All-in' DNA database plan hinges on human rights case

Lord Justice Sedley's proposal to put everyone in the UK on a DNA database would be dependent on a British man's case against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights, according to a privacy law expert. Michael Marper is objecting to the retention of his DNA information on the Home Office's database, despite the fact that …


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  1. Jan

    Find me now :)

    If I were a criminal I would welcome the idea of having everyone in the database. Given that it should be easy to acquire random DNA material I predict a prospering future for random DNA sample gatherers (used condoms anyone?). Do a crime, empty your random DNA sample box and presto, you have just given the police an interesting amount of extra work detaining and questioning innocent people.

    Not to mention the interesting possibilities I as a criminal would have to frame specific individuals because hey, the DNA is not lying, now is it. The (public) opinion on DNA as the holy grail for identifying the guilty certainly seems to stimulate such a mindset.

    Freedom also means ones government has to put in a fair amount of effort to prove you're guilty. Lets not forget governments have been responsible for more killings in the last century then any other human mayhem so I see a clear need for reasonable checks and balances. One of those would be to be very, very restrictive with the amount of information we voluntarily hand over to our government: you just *know* they will use it for things neither they nor you ever intended. But it is *you* who will bear the resulting consequences.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I so hope he wins his case...

    There is absolutely *no* excuse - and I do mean 'excuse' and not 'reason' - to maintain a country wide database of DNA on everybody. I don't think there's a case for even close relatives of suspects... convicted criminals, yes, but no further.

    It's none of their bloody business.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Say again?

    Could someone explain the disproportionate bit to me again? Looking at it, I see several possible scenarios which might be interlinked:

    a) ethnic minorities commit more crimes

    b) criminals from ethnic minorities get caught more often for some reason or other

    c) police has a tendency to screen ethnic minorities first when looking for suspects

    I guess the possible correlations are obvious. Add to this the seemingly outrageous (to a Continental) practice of happy sampling and never deleting, and there we go disproportionate.

    Now if you wanted to have your database less disproportionate, you could always

    1) stop sampling everyone and their granny for littering and loitering

    2) tell your officers to look for white folks more often

    3) work towards a society that has less tendency to push minorities towards criminal activity due to disadvantagement & marginalization.

    4) build a giant database of everything that draws breath through mandatory sampling that will cost bazillions to operate, will nevertheless constantly pull Tuttles, and thereby create a happy society where everyone is nice and kind and responsible. And afraid.

  4. Paul Larmour


    "If you have nothing to hide.." is the old argument but setting up a national DNA database creates a more claustrophobic society where it needs to be acknowledged that people still need the right toi go about unobserved in the same way I may not be doing anything wrong whilst watching TV in my sitting room, but I don't want someone sitting outside staring at me though my window - hence the desire for curtains.

    It is not so much of justifying everyone's DNA on file for a 'greater good' which is a dangerous argument as it concedes too much ground , it is more a case of it being none of their damn business having it on file in the first place. Need to respect the 'sovernity' of an individual just as much as that of the state.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How would that work for EU visitors?

    So how would that work for visitors from abroad that don't a visa? Do you fingerprint and digi-photograph them on arrival, as per USA?

    Perhaps you could profile them while you're at it, are they related to any families with known terrorists for example? Civil liberties organisations, can't possibly object to terrorist prevention! Are they grandfathers or grandmothers of orphaned children, child support should not have to pay to raise a child if a family member can pay.

    Why stop there, do they have a predisposition to expensive diseases? Are they perhaps NHS tourists visiting the country for free medical help?

    While you're looking at the visitors' DNA for diseases, perhaps they have that gene that predisposes them to Schizophrenia? You know, the one we talked about last week in connection with Cannabis?

    But how can we examine only visitor for this, how could we justify not testing Brits for family links to terrorists. But if we're looking anyway, perhaps we need to check them over for the Schizophrenia gene too. Might be worth keeping a special eye on them.

    Perhaps they have the gene for high blood pressure, it's only right and proper to take special care of them if they are. Who could object if it saves a life?

    It's only fair to insurance companies, that if we know a person has high blood pressure gene we share that information. We don't want to deceive by omission, do we?


    You can see how this creeps. Either we accept that people have a right of privacy or we may aswell bring back Tony Blair and let Nanny 911 micromanage every aspect of our lives.

  6. Chris Cheale

    I may be way off the mark here...

    ... but as I understand it DNA matching is best used in confirming the identity of a suspect for whom the police already have a swathe of evidence against, not for pulling up your shortlist of suspects in the first place.

    This could be because the DNA evidence collected is tainted (at the scene) or incomplete and without a full, untainted DNA strand it's useless.

    "Hey, we've got 95% of a strand! The culprit was Bubbles the Chimp!" - granted I don't know exactly how you'd get only 95% of a DNA strand without a couple of million years of fossilisation or a nice acid bath, but then I'm not an expert on microbiology/chemistry.

    The difference we're talking here, in a DNA strand, between one person and another is tiny (hell, it's not that massive between a person and a winkle) vast amounts of DNA is like legacy coding that no-one ever got around to looking at in the past 4 billion years or so (it's on a to-do list somewhere) and is the same for most living things.

    So by putting everyone in the database you're actually making it harder to convict a suspect; you build your body of evidence, narrow it down to a couple of possibles, do a DNA match and return 4216 close matches and unless you're storing additional information about addresses, dates of birth, criminal records, mental health records, even politocal views perhaps, etc etc etc the VAST majority of those matches will be completely irrelevant in the case.

  7. A J Stiles

    DNA soon to be discredited?

    Let's hope for a sensible decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The job of the police is to start with a crime and look for people who might have committed it, *not* to start with a person and look for crimes that they might commit. Retaining the DNA or fingerprints of innocent people is the sort of thing which happens in a police state.

    Also, it can surely only be a matter of time before doubt is cast on DNA "evidence". There is already one known circumstance which can generate a false positive (identical twins; this has even been the subject of at least one TV drama) and another which could generate a false negative (chimaerism, which was once thought to be extremely rare but may not be so).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chris Cheale

    "and unless you're storing additional information about addresses, dates of birth, criminal records, mental health records, even politocal views perhaps, etc etc etc the VAST majority of those matches will be completely irrelevant in the case"

    You are quite right in what you state, however do you not think the the Government has also thought about this and so in trying to get a match they will be storing additional information as well. DNA records will tie in to ID records, then Passports, then NHS, then benefits, then CCTV face recogition, then DVLA records, then "authorised, relevant" financial and insurance records etc etc etc.

    Do you see my point?

  9. Sam

    I simply had to..

    All you base pairs are belong to us.

    I won't need a coat, it's warm out.

  10. Harry Stottle

    Nothing To Hide

    I think it was someone on last week's version of this story who led me to this:

    strongly recommended. You have to sign up to get the full paper but it's free and worth it. (Loads of other good stuff there as well.)

    In addition, I've personally dealt with the dna database in some detail in my paper on (UK) ID Cards. You are more than welcome to check that out as well.

    In short, I'm in favour of universal registration providing it is both ANONYMOUS and VOLUNTARY. (with the data protected by one time keys and a key escrow system controlled by Juries, not judges, police or governments)

    oh, and we must be allowed to withdraw our data at any time for any reason. (As a final protection against abuse)

  11. A. Merkin

    500,000 Pounds Per Citizen

    Might be slightly impractical today due to the cost of sequencing an individual's DNA. (ie: 2-for-1 Million special).

    On the other hand, it would enable the gummint to do a quick scan for individuals with the PERP gene and round them all up before they get into any mischief...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DNA contamination

    The biggest problem with using DNA as evidence is the incompetents in charge of gathering, storing and testing.

    I trust the low paid techies in charge of testing DNA about as much as I trust your average politician. There are far too many opportunities to foul up and contaminate.

    And contamination does happen fairly regularly. The problem is not if you have anything to hide - which I do, I want to hide everything about myself from people that have no business looking at.

    The problem is the ignorance of the general public, those that make up juries. They have been spun a line of bullshit that DNA is infallible, the testing is infallible, and if the defendant has tested positive, nothing could possibly have gone wrong in the process that produced the positive test.

    I couldn't give a fuck if I die because my privacy is properly protected. You tell me if you'd rather risk going to jail falsely accused of being a child-murdering paedophile, or run the risk of being tremendously unlucky and dying in a terrorist attack? Remember that your welcome to jail visits you get at night won't be among your top ten experiences for life.

    The other thing is that in all likelihood, even if none of the DNA stored was ever contaminated, the only DNA they'll end up gathering will be that of people that have never committed any serious crimes, and are never likely to - or from the type of criminal that poses absolutely no threat to you whatsoever. Shit, even if they did somehow have every terrorist or violent criminal's DNA to hand, if they can't stop people on terror watch lists boarding planes and murdering thousands, what use is having their DNA going to be?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "It would be for Parliament to decide whether the intrusion and surveillance involved in assembling and maintaining such a resource is an acceptable price to pay for its advantages." Endquote. Does anyone in their right mind believe this load of lying scumbags posing as a government beileve ANYTHING of ours is safe with them? Now Gordon Gopher is driving anything could happen, and probably wil!!!

  14. Steve Browne

    Do you trust the next government ?

    or the one after that.

    Having had Tony Bliar's introduction to Stalinism foisted upon us, and yet more pressure to be applied from our allies in the US, do you really think that the government or its agencies can be trusted with such detailed personal knowledge of you ?

    All police data held should have a use by date, and it should be deleted from their records once this date has passed. Everything.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No to tyranny

    This looks like a damned slippery slope, the people considering this should be told to piss off and respect peoples privacy, its already a concern having all this CCTV and ID card projects.

    We should be treated as free people not feudal subjects, all these fascists should 'go to hell'.

  16. Jonathan Lane

    missing the point?

    I thought this judge was being slightly ironic in making that statement. I didn't think he was genuinely suggesting that an all inclusive DNA database would be a good thing - that was the impression I got when I saw him on breakfast the other day. I thought he was moaning that the database as it stands has a random collection of innocent people on it. Regardless of their ethnic makeup there shouldn't be any innocent people on it. If there are going to be innocent people on there then it should be everyone not just some random sample. I tend to agree with that. I think an all inclusive DNA database is a terribly bad idea but having any innocent people on there is probably as bad if not worse.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad idea all round ...

    The UK DNA database is a great example of how things grow with no initial plan, and no oversight. The initial experimental database became an operational one with no real debate (okay - there is room for conspiracy theory here, but I'm not convinced), and because of this there was no mechanism for removing samples once people were on it. This has never been corrected, and it was capitalised on with the "talk to a policeman and get a free DNA test" decision by the government, again with no debate, so that once on, you can never consider you are free again - this is a problem. I understand that, essentially, the only way to deal with this practical problem is to wipe out the system and start again with the correct safeguards in place - there is a campaign that is going to get nowhere fast!

    Regarding contaminating the scene of a crime - forget used condoms. Simply take the dust from the vaccuum cleaner at a public place. The number of DNA samples will be in the thousands, and will completely swamp your sample. Easy! In fact, I'm considering doing it as a matter of course - let the police work for a living.

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