Big Brother Watch finds police are keeping lots of DNA data on innocent people
Police forces across the UK have no idea whether the DNA data they are storing relates to innocent or guilty people, indicating the government is going to have a tough time following through on pledges to reform the system, a report has found.
Big Brother Watch (BBW) found just three police forces (North Wales, Staffordshire and West Mercia Police) could distinguish DNA profiles of those convicted from those who had never even been charged.
The government has introduced the Protection of Freedoms Act, which requires a DNA database entry to be deleted three years after a person has been arrested, unless a Chief Constable deems the retention to be in the interests of ‘national security’ or there is another criteria set out by the Home Secretary.
As an example of how police forces are not removing entries, Suffolk Constabulary was found to have collected 17,465 samples and deleted only four between January 2009 and November 2011.
At least 900,000 samples of DNA were gathered by police forces over that time, with London’s Metropolitan Police Service raking in 120,000.
The data emerged following an Freedom of Information (FoI) request from BBW.
“It should not be for the police to have the final say if someone’s DNA will be retained,” argued Nick Pickles, director of BBW.
“This should be taken as an opportunity to fundamentally review the entire system before the number of innocent people caught up in it grows even larger.
“It is deeply troubling that very soon English and Welsh citizens could find that their details are retained and shared in situations where someone from Scotland or another country would not have to worry about something that happened many years in the past.”
Police hold large banks of sensitive data. Last year, the Police National Database was launched, allowing forces to share and access locally held intelligence.
The police came under fire from the Public Accounts Committee last week, after a project to equip officers with BlackBerrys failed to provide anything close to the anticipated savings. Where £125 million in cashable savings was supposed to have been achieved, it has so far only managed £600,000.
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