U.K. DNA database by stealth

Jacqui Smith’s new plans erode principles of innocent until proven guilty to create a New Labour-style third way: innocentish

It is perhaps ironic that the home secretary should seem so hellbent on collecting the nation’s DNA while still reeling from the embarrassment of her husband‘s presumed attempts to spill his at the taxpayer’s expense. If it is irony then it is doubly so, as Smith is the minister charged with upholding the rule of law yet has such utter contempt for it and its principles. The EU court ruling stated very clearly that the DNA profiles and samples of the 850,000 innocent people currently on the database should be removed.

Smith’s response is to leave them on the DNA database for between six and 12 years. At best this is a childish kind of belligerent foot-dragging and at worst it is plain illegal. What is certain is that campaigners will challenge this, and once again Smith will be hauled into court.

The continued inclusion of innocent people‘s DNA on the database throws up several concerns. At a most basic level it flies in the face of our most natural notions of fairness. Why should some have their DNA profiles among the guilty and others not. The only reason provided so far is chance, a chance encounter with the police.

Secondly, Smith’s new regime leaves the innocent who have been cleared of charges of minor, non-violent crime on the database for six years, which erodes the principle of innocent until proven guilty and in classic New Labour fashion creates a third way, neither innocent or guilty but innocentish.

Then there is the very simple issue of privacy, something consecutive Labour home secretaries simply don’t understand. Why should the police have DNA information that could relate to a person’s paternity or genetic prevalence to certain illness when the individuals concerned may well not hold that information themselves?

Most galling of all, though, is that Smith’s proposal still clings to the notion of creating a compulsory national DNA database by stealth. Instead of openly arguing and campaigning for this, Smith seeks to build one incrementally, slyly and on the quiet.

Writing yesterday in the Guardian, Jonathan Myerson argued for the creation of just such a database. Unfortunately when it comes to arguing for what private information should be placed in the public domain, Myerson’s last contribution to this debate renders him an inappropriate poster boy for this campaign.

Myerson went on to say that he would fight for genuine civil liberties as much as the next man, on issues such as ID cards and detention without charge. I decided to search LexisNexis for any sign of campaigning articles from Jonathan on these issues and found precisely none. So either I searched in error or it would appear that the next man frankly does not give a toss about civil liberties. At least Myerson had the openness to argue for the national data, unlike Smith, who shulks around the issue without comprehending that the public simply don’t trust politicians with their personal data.

Mark Thomas
Thursday 7 May 2009

Source: The Guardian

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