Britain changes rules on storing innocents' DNA

8th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Under the new changes, DNA samples and fingerprints collected from people arrested on suspicion of minor offences and then cleared would be deleted from a central database after six years.

London -- Britain said Thursday it would end the policy of indefinitely storing the DNA of people arrested and then cleared of crimes, after the European human rights court condemned it.

New proposals published by the Home Office came under fire almost immediately, however, as civil liberties groups warned the measures were half-hearted and said too many innocent people's details were still being held.

Under the changes unveiled Thursday, DNA samples and fingerprints collected from people arrested on suspicion of minor offences and then cleared would be deleted from a central database after six years.

Samples taken from those arrested but not convicted of serious violent and sexual offences would be deleted after 12 years.

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.

The Strasbourg court noted Britain was the only one of the 47 members of the Council of Europe to authorise the indefinite preservation of personal data logged in police files of anyone suspected of committing an offence.

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."

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said Thursday that the DNA database, which was set up in 1995 and holds information on about 4.5 million people, was a "vital tool" in fighting crime.

"These new proposals will ensure that the right people are on it, as well as considering where people should come off," she said.

But 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."

Chris Grayling, home affairs spokesman for the main opposition Conservatives, added: "Ministers are just trying to get away with as little as they possibly can instead of taking real action to remove innocent people from the DNA database."

Data on jailed criminals will continue to be stored for life, but young people convicted of only one minor offence will have their DNA samples deleted when they reach 18 years of age.

AFP/Expatica

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