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.

Read moreU.K. DNA database by stealth

Ministers refuse to answer torture questions

• Miliband and Smith snub human rights committee
• MPs want head of MI5 to explain conduct of officers

David Miliband and Jacqui Smith have both refused to appear before Parliament’s human rights committee to answer questions about allegations of British collusion in the torture of British citizens and residents detained during counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.

In a move that dismayed members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), a joint letter from the foreign secretary and home secretary is also said to have failed to answer any of the eight questions that the committee asked about legal provisions offering MI5 officers immunity in the UK for crimes committed overseas. The JCHR is now asking Jonathan Evans, the director-general of MI5, to appear before it to be questioned about the agency’s policy and the conduct of his officers.

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Government plans to keep DNA samples of innocent

DNA samples of innocent to be kept on file

Jacqui Smith
Home secretary Jacqui Smith: has not indicated whether DNA samples already obtained would be destroyed. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/PA

The government is planning to get around a European court ruling that condemned Britain’s retention of the DNA profiles of more than 800,000 innocent people by keeping the original samples used to create the database, the Guardian has learned.

A damning ruling last December criticised the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the UK’s current DNA database – which includes DNA from those never charged with an offence – and said the government had overstepped acceptable limits of storing data for crime detection.


Don’t miss:
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas warns of surveillance culture (Times):
Richard Thomas told The Times that “creeping surveillance” in the public and private sectors had gone “too far, too fast” and risked undermining democracy.

Spy chief: We risk a police state (Telegraph):
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.


Last month the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she would publish a white paper setting out “a more proportionate, fair and commonsense approach”, but she has not given any indication whether DNA samples already obtained would be destroyed. However, Home Office sources said the government, which was given three months to respond to the ruling, has “no plans” to destroy samples of DNA.

Read moreGovernment plans to keep DNA samples of innocent

Blunkett warns over ‘Big Brother’ Britain

David Blunkett, who introduced the idea of identity cards when Home Secretary, will issue a stark warning to the Government tomorrow that it is in danger of abusing its power by taking Britain towards a “Big Brother” state.

At the 21st annual law lecture in Essex University’s Colchester campus, Mr Blunkett will urge ministers to rethink policy and counter criticism from civil liberties campaigners that Labour is creating a “surveillance society.”

Related article: Spy chief: We risk a police state (Telegraph)

He will come out against the Government’s controversial plan to set up a database holding details of telephone calls and emails and its proposal to allow public bodies to share personal data with each other.

His surprise intervention will be welcomed by campaign groups, who regard him as a hardliner because of his strong backing for a national ID card scheme and tough anti-terror laws. The former home secretary will propose a U-turn on ID cards for British citizens, although he agrees with plans to make them compulsory for foreign nationals.

Read moreBlunkett warns over ‘Big Brother’ Britain

Brown and Blair among ‘enemies of freedom’

A report on the loss of civil liberties was launched yesterday and will be sent to Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jacqui Smith and others identified as “the 10 enemies of freedom”.

The Abolition of Freedom Act 2009 was produced by the University College London Students’ Human Rights programme. It shows how “the liberties that we assumed were somehow guaranteed by British culture have been compromised”.



Blunkett warns over ‘Big Brother’ Britain (Independent):
David Blunkett, who introduced the idea of identity cards when Home Secretary, will issue a stark warning to the Government tomorrow that it is in danger of abusing its power by taking Britain towards a “Big Brother” state.

Spy chief: We risk a police state (The Telegraph):
Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.


The report comes ahead of the Convention on Modern Liberty, which takes place on Saturday at the Institute of Education, London.

Sunday 22 February 2009
David Smith

Source: The Observer

Private firm may track all email and calls

‘Hellhouse’ of personal data will be created, warns former DPP

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone’s calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But in his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a “hellhouse” of personal private information.

“Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything,” said Macdonald. “All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen.”

Read morePrivate firm may track all email and calls

DNA database: 17 judges, one ruling – and 857,000 records must be now wiped clear

  • Retention of unconvicted citizens’ samples criticised
  • Home secretary promises report on how to comply


The judges said DNA profiles could be used to identify relationships which amounted to an interference with their right to respect for their private lives. Photograph: Science photo library

The fingerprints and DNA samples of more than 857,000 innocent citizens who have been arrested or charged but never convicted of a criminal offence now face deletion from the national DNA database after a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

In one of their most strongly worded judgments in recent years, the unanimous ruling from the 17 judges, including a British judge, Nicolas Bratza, condemned the “blanket and indiscriminate” nature of the powers given to the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to retain the DNA samples and fingerprints of suspects who have been released or cleared.

The judges were highly critical of the fact that the DNA samples could be retained without time limit and regardless of the seriousness of the offence, or the age of the suspect.

The court said there was a particular risk that innocent people would be stigmatised because they were being treated in the same way as convicted criminals. The judges added that the fact DNA profiles could be used to identify family relationships between individuals, meant its indefinite retention also amounted to an interference with their right to respect for their private lives under the human rights convention.

The case provoked an expression of disappointment from the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, and the promise that a working party, including senior police officials, will report back to Strasbourg by next March on how the government will comply with the judgment.

“The government mounted a robust defence before the court and I strongly believe DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime and bringing people to justice. The existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgment.”

Read moreDNA database: 17 judges, one ruling – and 857,000 records must be now wiped clear

Police to get 10,000 Taser guns

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, is to arm police with 10,000 Taser stun guns in an escalation of the government’s fight against violent crime.

Smith will unveil plans tomorrow that will enable all 30,000 front-line response officers to be trained in firing the electric guns at knife-wielding thugs and other violent suspects.

Smith said yesterday that £8m will be made available to all 43 police forces in England and Wales to buy the new 50,000-volt weapons.

She said their use will be extended from small units of dedicated firearms officers to up to 30,000 police response officers across the country.

Read morePolice to get 10,000 Taser guns

Pilots threaten to strike over ID cards


The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith insists the cards will improve security

The first wave of ID cards to be issued to British citizens has prompted airline pilots to threaten a strike rather than accept the documents.

Aviation workers have warned that proposals to make airport staff register for the cards from next year would do little to improve security. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which represents 10,000 of the 12,000 commercial pilots and flight engineers in Britain, said its members were being treated as “guinea pigs”. Jim McAuslan, Balpa’s general secretary, said the Government’s “early warning system should be flashing” over opposition to the plans.

The Home Office insists the scheme will help airport workers improve security and streamline pass applications when staff move jobs. Ministers will publish draft regulations on Friday to set up a trial requiring airside staff at Manchester airport and London City airport to sign up for an ID card before they can get security passes allowing them to work there. If the regulations are approved, the first ID cards will be issued at the two airports from autumn next year as part of an 18-month trial.

Under the proposals, airport workers will be the first British citizens to be given ID cards, which are due to be introduced for young people from 2010.

Read morePilots threaten to strike over ID cards

Sir Ken Macdonald: Centuries of British freedoms being broken by security state

Centuries of British civil liberties risk being broken by the relentless pressure from the ‘security state’, the country’s top prosecutor has warned.

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald warned that the expansion of technology by the state into everyday life could create a world future generations “can’t bear”.

In his wide-ranging speech, Sir Ken appeared to condemn a series of key Government policies, attacking terrorism proposals – including 42 day detention – identity card plans and the “paraphernalia of paranoia”.

Instead, he said, the Government should insist that “our rights are priceless” and that: “The best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.”

The intervention will be seen as a significant setback to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who last week saw her plans to lock up terror suspects for 42 days before being charged thrown out by the House of Lords.

It is also a blow to Miss Smith’s plans for a super-database to record the details of millions of people’s online presence, including emails, SMS messages and Facebook profiles as well as the controversial identity card programme.

Sir Ken chose to issue his tough warning about the perils of the “Big Brother” state in his final speech as DPP, days before he leaves his post at the end of this month.

He warned that MPs should “take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can’t bear”.

Sir Ken, who has held the post for the past five years, said: “We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.

“Technology gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each of us, and the ability to collect and store it at will.”

Read moreSir Ken Macdonald: Centuries of British freedoms being broken by security state