DNA samples of the innocent will be kept after all

Daily Mail – July 28, 2011

DNA samples from up to one million people who have not committed any crime will be retained – despite a government promise to bin them.

The Coalition have backtracked on proposals to get rid of all the records for innocent people and have instead pledged to keep them in ‘anonymised’ form.

However, it would still be possible for police forces to match the sample to individuals.

DNA samples are taken for everyone arrested in England and Wales and currently they are detained.

More than five million samples are currently held – including one million for people who have committed no crime. Under the reforms, if someone is not charged the sample will be scrapped unless it was a sex crime or violent offence.

The revelation has angered civil liberty groups after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats pledged in their Coalition agreement to get rid of the samples.

James Brokenshire, a Home Office Minister, has told MPs that samples will be retained but will be ‘considered to have been deleted’, the Daily Telegraph revealed.

However, the records will have a barcode on them which can be matched up with documentation held by the individual police forces.

Mr Brokenshire told MPs: ‘It is therefore theoretically possible that a laboratory could identify an individual’s profile from the barcode, but only in conjunction with the force which took the original sample, by giving details of the barcode of the force and asking for the individual’s name.’

The Minister added that if this was done it would ‘not be legally acceptable’ as evidence because it would be in breach of the Data Protection Act.

Isabella Sankey, policy director at Liberty, told the Telegraph: ‘Anonymising intimate genetic information is nowhere near the same thing as destroying it.’

Daniel Hamilton, director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This is a disgraceful u-turn on the part of the government. Destroying physical DNA samples is a pointless gesture if the computer records are to be retained.

‘Despite paying lip service to freedom and civil liberties, this government is fast proving itself to be every bit as illiberal as its predecessor.’

A spokesman for the Home Office said that the samples were to be deleted completely – but it was not practical to get rid of all the information held by individual police forces.

In Scotland samples are already destroyed for people who are not charged with an offence.