back to article Police hit delete on DNA profiles

DNA records will no longer be kept on innocent people questioned over routine crimes in England and Wales, the government has said. It will still keep samples of those questioned in connection with terrorist offences. The move is a major change in Government policy and will result in a massive reduction in the number of …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about

    Those people charged by the police but found innocent by a Jury of their peers?

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: What about

      Quote "The Bill orders the destruction of DNA material in most cases where a person is not charged *or convicted* of a crime."

      Does that cover it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Does that cover it?

        You 100% on that?

        "where a person is not charged, or charged but not convicted".

        Might be more convincing.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


          I agree that would be clearer, but you cannot be convicted without being charged, and it is an OR between the two, so IMHO it should be clear enough. Mind you, grammar was never my strongest subject.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What about

      People arrested and charged with wearing a loud shirt ina built up area during the hours of darkness?

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    *Never* should have been retained in the first place.

    This was very much in line with ACPO's a-citizen-is-just-a-criminal-we-have-not-caught-yet mindset, popular with the EU commission as well (Data Retention Directive)

    And what was *so* difficult about deleting the ones *already* held?

    Viewing DNA and the data records generated from it under the Data Protection Act would seem to come under excessive and unnecessary.

    A *very* grudging start.

  3. Harry

    So, not everybody is safe.

    "It will still keep samples of those questioned in connection with terrorist offences."

    Which presumably means that photographers will be especially targetted for retention. "He took a photograph of a police officer. In the eyes of the police, that's worse than a terrorist offence so we're keeping his DNA".

  4. Maurice Shakeshaft

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is....

    Why do I have a nagging doubt that this is either a bit of sophistry or there is something else going on that I will like even less than DNA profile storage and this is an attempted sop to keep me off balance.....

    I'm just too cynical? It must be my age!

    I'll be happy and amazed if it goes through in anything like the form outlined.

  5. Richard Jukes


    What happens if a person accepted a caution? Will their DNA be retained?

  6. Jeff Deacon

    Don't hold breath

    It would be good news if ACPO Ltd had a track record of doing what they have been told. For example the Home Secretary has instructed an end to the target culture within the police. To the Plod on the ground, there appears to have been no discernible change.

    Put that beer back on ice, and don't hold your breath.

    (Please can we have a "blue in the face" icon?)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excuse me sir.

    Your rear offside light is not working this gives me reason to believe your are on your way to commit an act of terrorism. By the way, have you ever owned, currently own or are planning to buy a camera.

  8. mark 63 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    keep the samples!

    I am I the only one who thinks they shouldnt delete these samples?

    I think they should be taken at birth for everybody, as a crime preventative measure

    no "civil libitarian" has ever been able to offer me a good reason why not

    apart from paranoid wailings like

    "they will be used by the illuminati for evil deeds"

    "youre taking my privacy"

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: keep the samples!

      Oh dear.

      Hey everyone! Let's play 'ignore the wilfully controversial post'. Whoever lasts the longest wins total freedom in perpetuity!

      1. Is it me?

        Maybe not

        It is a valid if controversial point, there are some benefits to taking DNA samples at birth, but personally I wouldn't try and sell it on a law and order basis. If you do that, you need to show that you have cause to want a DNA sample, it's a handy way of identifying unknown bodies and such, or as an anonymous research tool. You just have to protect it from misuse, and fishing, genetic markers are relatively unique, but if the sample size is large enough, you will get false positives, and as the Police are institutionally lazy, they would misuse it on the grounds Match = Guilty.

        Personally, I think you should be able to choose to have your sample deleted or not, I'm quite happy with the idea that the government has my biometric data, and that it's available to the Police.

        Mind you I'd be happier if the Police kept all their officers and employees biometric data in the same way they do in the US, rather than expect it of everyone else.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Down

          Is it me?

          "It is a valid if controversial point, there are some benefits to taking DNA samples at birth, "

          Positive reasons can *always* be made for something like this.

          Just give up a *little* more of your privacy forever and it will make administration *so* much easier (for us).

          "You just have to protect it from misuse, "


          "Personally, I think you should be able to choose to have your sample deleted "

          You seem to think such institutions *accept* they are run for the benefit of members of society.

          The reality is it has taken a case in the ECHR to get the UK govt to do this for *innocent* people. It's taken 2 *years* to this accepted by the so-called government but more relevantly ACPO who seem to function as an unelected unaccountable setter of UK law enforcement policy

          "Mind you I'd be happier if the Police kept all their officers and employees biometric data in the same way they do in the US, rather than expect it of everyone else."

          Outside of watching CSI I've no idea of how (if) the US really retains law enforcement staff's DNA. The UK does but in a *separate* file of Police DNA. This suggests there is an automatic *assumption* that any *Police* DNA found is a result of them being present at scene of crime.

          So the chance of a corrupt officer being picked up by *their* DNA at a crime scene looks to be pretty slim as long as they don't arouse suspicion.

          I wonder what happens to it when the leave the Police?

          I think the mix of points you make would either get as many votes up as down or cause people not to vote at all.

          I'll still go for the down vote.

    2. The Original Ash

      Profiles linked by identifiers

      Those identifiers are indexed and processed by people. If the key for your identify is linked, mistakenly, with the DNA profile of a known criminal, you become the target of the investigation. It may not get far in court, but you can bet the tabloid press would jump on "DNA databse leads to arrest of wanted pedo" with your name in lights, purely because they found the perv's DNA at a scene, but it was linked to your details on the database.

      Mud sticks, and all that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "It may not get far in court, but you can bet the tabloid press would jump on"

        Yeah, because currently the tabloids are very restrained and don't jump to convict people on scant evidence - ask Christopher Jefferies how well that worked for him (the Joanna Yeates "murderer")

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        The Original Ash

        You forgot the aftermath.

        *If* the Police actually catch the real offender you *might* get an apology in the same tabloids

        In a small paragraph

        Somewhere after page 10.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: keep the samples!

      When I've talked to people about a compulsory DNA database in the past, the number one argument is always something misinformed like "They will sell the database to insurance companies so they can look for hereditary disease."

      Hint: a DNA database, such as the UK's NDNAD, does NOT store all 3 billion base pairs for each person on it. It stores a profile, which is just ten pairs of numbers. That's all.

      When I point this out they tend to fall back on saying "Well what about false matches?" - to which there are three answers: firstly the Human Genetics Commission says a random match probability is in the region of 1 in a trillion for the SGM+ system used by NDNAD. Secondly, if everyone was in the database then presumably ALL possible matches would be reported. Thirdly, if DNA profiling does cause miscarriages of justice then are we saying that it is okay for convicted criminals to suffer miscarriages of justice but not the rest of the population?

    4. TakeTheSkyRoad

      Re : keep the samples!

      Yeah pretty much I think !

      The catch with DNA profiles is that it's essentially a chemical fingerprint and as with any finger print the more "samples" you compare it against the more chance there is that either more than one *match* is found or an *incorrect match* is found. With finger prints (and DNA) this can be avoided by comparing with finer grain detail but this costs more of course (time & money) and your database of samples needs to be more detailed too.

      So if your suggestion goes ahead, there's a rape/murder in your area and your DNA is matched then do you really want to be spending your coming weeks denying the newpaper reports and trying to prove you were home in front of Crime Watch at the time ?

      Don't forget we shed DNA all the time, imagine after getting your hair cut for example. You could spend all day shedding stray hairs each of which is DNA evidence.

      This is more likely scenario than you think since you're more likely to share DNA "markers" with people in your area (assuming that's where you family is from). It could be a distant relation who committed the crime.

      Anyway.... this is my ADDITIONAL reason for not basing policing on a full DNA database.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Just a small point, the DNA in hair is mitochondrial DNA and is not the same as nuclear DNA found in blood. mtDNA cannot uniquely identify an individual.

        1. TakeTheSkyRoad
          Thumb Up

          Thanks for that...

          Great, I didn't know that and while I think my basic point still stands you've corrected my technical ignorance.... I'm blaming Gattaca for this ;)

    5. Supportomancer

      Oh yes, the "innocent have nothing to be afraid of" ruse....

      False positives.

      If you are unlucky enough not to have an strong alibi, DNA evidence will say you did it, even though you didn't. And unless otherwise educated by a good defence, a jury will bang you up.

      I however have no problem with DNA being taken from the dead, and being used to determine familial identifications. The dead can't complain, and they are dead so no *living* DNA is on record (unless of courese they are convicted crims). Further police work should then be able to identify and apprehend the culprit.

      That's how DNA should work...

  9. GrahamS


    Now we can use the DNA profile database to assist in the identification of criminals the *second* time they commit a crime. Excellent.

    Making it harder to catch first time offenders will no doubt greatly improve our crime rates.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    IT'S A LIE!

    DNA profiles don't have to be deleted.

    See Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 13:

    "13 Destruction of copies

    After section 63O of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (for which see section 12) insert—

    “63P Destruction of copies of section 63D material

    (1) If fingerprints are required by section 63D to be destroyed, any copies of the fingerprints held by the police must also be destroyed.

    (2) If a DNA profile is required by that section to be destroyed, no copy may be retained by the police except in a form which does not include information which identifies the person to whom the DNA profile relates.”"

    It's interesting that anonymised fingerprints can't be retained, but anonymised DNA profiles can. What is the purpose of this?

    While such DNA profiles can only be kept if they're anonymised, the obvious question is whether or not the police can still legally keep other, separate documents that refer to the anonymised profiles while also saying whose profiles they are. I wouldn't put it past the police to try something like that, on the grounds that this law only requires the profiles themselves to be anonymised, not other documents that then refer to them. (Didn't the police once try to get around a court order to destroy DNA samples by creating copies to keep, and then destroying the originals? Or did I just imagine that?)

    This law would allow police to keep innocent people's DNA profiles, by copy and pasting them (without "information which identifies the person to whom the DNA profile relates"), and then destroying the originals.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Smoke and mirrors.

    This doesn't really have anything to do with ethical concerns. It's all about the money. The Forensic Science Service announced last week that it was no longer accepting drink drive samples for analysis. The government are shutting down the FSS, so the service doesn't want to incur any additional costs. No more DNA screenings for serious crimes (a good thing!) or anything else for that matter. Soon, dealing with serious crime will be based entirely on cost/benefit analysis; it already in in most other matters. The public CCTV debate may settle in the same way, as most local authorities cannot afford to run their existing systems, let alone update them.

    Justice is not only blind, it is destitute.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    As they've found in Scotland, which has the same DNA system as England, but different retention laws - If you only have convicted criminals on the database, it actually works much better becuase there are far fewer false positives. If you fill the database up with everyone the Police come into contact with you get far more hits per DNA sample, partly becuase of the relatively small amount of DNA that is actually stored.

    So, oddly, this is actually good news for law enforcement as well as civil liberties.

  13. Andy Livingstone

    Weasel Word Alert


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DNA samples and profiles

    It's interesting that some of the commenters here are not differentiating between DNA samples and the DNA profile that is taken from the sample.

    A DNA sample (a physical piece of the original sample) is very difficult to keep for any length of time without it degrading or suffering contamination. You need reliable cryogenic storage to make sure that the sample you took remains usable, and this is expensive and risky. To remain usable you have to prove that the storage is not only cold and sealed against contamination now, but has been ever since it was stored.

    A DNA profile is a hash of 10 (UK NDNAD) or 13 (US CODIS) loci out of many, many more within a DNA sample, which turns it into information that can be stored and searched in IT systems, but looses much of the uniqueness that the original sample had.

    This is why it is different from fingerprints, where you can store the hash for easy comparison, *and* the original fingerprint for visual checking. As a result, DNA profiling should always be corroborating evidence, and never primary evidence in a case. This limits the usefulness of a national database to just identifying possible suspects rather than being a direct pointer to the offender.

    Keeping anonymised data also has value to the police even though it may not identify individuals, as it can be used to determine the uniqueness of a match to judge it's worth. If you run a test, and find dozens or hundreds of matches (it is possible, DNA profiling is less exact that you might think), the value is less than if it only comes up with only one or two. This will have some value in court to convince a jury that a particular individual is likely to have committed the offence, and becomes more important when you get a large part of the population in your anonymised database.

    In general, I would prefer there to be as little DNA information stored as can be justified, but I could possibly accept a national database of everyone, but only if significant education about the fallibility of the process to the media and population in general, and especially the Police and CPS were carried out. There would also have to be other safe guards regarding additional evidence before apprehension or arrest, and the ability to completely expunge from the records any instance where you were a match, but were found to be un-involved, uncharged or found innocent of the crime in question.

    As I don't believe that this can happen in the current environment, or any one that is likely to exist in the near future, I will remain mostly on the side of the libertarians on this issue.

  15. url

    YAY US! we're goving you back your freedom.

    the motivation was purely rainbows & ponies and marshmallow, and nothing to do with the potential for a huge swathe of law suits then?? Compliance with ECHR was onnly ever a minor concern.

    Next up, we're going to relax immigration ... again nothing to do with ECHR, it's simply that big society is inclusive and stuff.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about Fingerprints

    Interesting that removal of DNA (for the innocent) is not to be paralleled (in England & Wales, as Scoltand has separate legislation) by removal of fingerprints. Why is the public more concerned about DNA than fingerprints? Media attention perhaps?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fingerprints, Too!

      Although I haven't read the Bill thoroughly, it does appear that this is about fingerprints as well as DNA profiles. And samples and footprints, too.

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    Fingerprints can't tell you a persons gender.

    Fingerprints can't tell who you're related to, regardless of who you think your parents are.

    Fingerprints can't tell if you have a variety of hereditary diseases.

    DNA can't tell you if this person has 1 or more twins which match them for DNA but could have committed the crime.

    Aside from the fact fingerprints have been in use in the UK since at least the 1890's whereas DNA has not I'd think there *are* reasons for treating DNA *more* stringently than fingerprints.

    BTW the failure of the Scottish fingerprints service in recent years does not give much faith that fingerprint comparison by humans is being either properly taught or carried out.

  18. T J

    Cant trust them

    Nice in spirit (or in principle as Sir Humphrey Appleby would say). But they cannot be trusted. An independant body with the Power Of Godlike Destruction over the police needs to be created to see this through, midnight raids and all.

    One footnote: I'm giving it till 2015 before DNA is no longer admissable as evidence anyway, ditto fingerprints. For details go do some searching on the latest genomic achievements, and with respect to DNA profiling look at 'junk DNA'.

  19. Sam Therapy
    Thumb Down

    Yet more bullshit PR...

    ...of course.

    Charged with a serious offence and subsequently found Not Guilty or not even taken to court does not equate to "Actually Guilty" or even Likely to be "Guilty in future".

    All DNA samples and records generated thereby should be deleted in all cases where the person arrested was found Not Guilty or where the case did not make it to court. Anything less is a sham.

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