Innocent people deserve better treatment from Met over DNA database

A party news release brings the message:

Dee Doocey, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly policing spokesperson and member of the MPA, has today called for the Met to address its poor record of meeting requests by innocent people for the deletion of their DNA records held on a national database.

At present only 24% of the requests from innocent people to have their DNA removed are granted by the Met.

After questioning the Met Commissioner at today’s full meeting of the MPA Dee Doocey said:

“The current situation is totally unsatisfactory. The Met Commissioner has the power to delete the records of innocent people from the National DNA Database, but he is not willing to do so unless instructed by the Government.

“Clear legal guidance on this issue is desperately needed and the starting point must be that it is unacceptable for the state to store the DNA records of innocent people.

“However, until there is legislation in place the Met should at least learn from many other police forces which have a far better record of deleting the DNA records of innocent people.”

Notes to editors:

Recent figures show that within the Met area 773,342 men and 165,719 women are on the DNA national database. 28,239 of the males and 10,108 females on the database are under 18 years of age.

Police forces which meet more requests by innocent people for the removal of their DNA records include Cleveland (70.6%), Cumbria (79%), Hertfordshire (54.2%), Durham (55.6%), South Yorkshire (82.7%) and Wiltshire (80%).

Nationally 5.6 million people are on the National DNA Database with a million people having never been convicted of a crime.

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11 Comments

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Feb '10 - 2:55pm

    I’m gonna ask it again, ’cause I still can’t work it out: what harm does it do me if the police have a record of my DNA profile?

  • The potential to fit you up?

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Feb '10 - 6:05pm

    I don’t see that that’s any easier to do with DNA profiling. Bear in mind, I’m not talking about keeping samples of genetic material, just a database of the profiles. That can’t be used to fit people up without an actual sample. (I know there was an article on here a while ago explaining that it is possible to create artificial DNA samples: but we’re talking about pretty severe conspiracies in order to do that, and there are easier ways for police that are that corrupt to fake evidence against you, as well as structures and colleagues to restrain them from indulging in petty victimisation.) I know some people will call me naive, but the fact is “they can fit you up” is an argument for not allowing the police to have any powers to do anything. If I were going to agree to that, I’d be an anarchist by definition.

    Besides, if that’s the problem, then what difference does it make whether I’ve been convicted of an offence or not? Are we saying that once you’ve been convicted for the first time, it’s okay to be fitted up for future offences?

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Feb '10 - 8:56pm

    Mark:

    (a) I find it hard to believe that there is any significant difference in marginal cost due to keeping innocent as well as guilty people’s records – most of the costs are there anyway, especially if we accept that an unconvicted person’s dna can be sampled and cross-checked in the first place: at that point, it probably costs more to remove it than to delete it.

    (b) “if data is in a database, there is a risk it will be misused” – but that simply begs the question: data misuse is a meaningless concern unless there is the possibility of harm arising from misuse. What is the harm?

    (c) To paraphrase this point: “It’s the thin end of the wedge.” Never a convincing argument. Again it begs the question, which can now be rephrased as: what’s the thick end?

    And finally: why wouldn’t I be interested in reasons of principle? Avoidance of harm is a principle. If you’ve got any others to apply, do by all means throw them in!

  • I actually oppose the whole DNA database nevermind innocent people being on the database. If police have reason to suspect a person then test their DNA and match it to DNA left at the scene of the crime then that is far more persuaive as proof to me than if they simply take the DNA from the scene of the crime and run in through a database of millions get a match and arrest the person based on that evidence alone. This is because the larger a database gets the more likely you are to get mismatches due to the fact DNA profile matching is only something like 99.99% accurate which when comparing one sample to another is compelling but when comparing one sample to millions of samples in a database a mismatch actually becomes statistically likely

    Also with a database you have the risk of it getting corrupted so a person’s DNA profile is linked to someone completely different. (whether due to human error, poor system controls, deliberate changes, the database being ‘hacked into’ etc etc).

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Feb '10 - 9:31am

    I think you make a good point, Peter1919. In terms of the discussion above, this would be the thick end! Of course, ideally DNA would never convict on its own, but that’s where the public’s CSI-influenced belief in the absolute reliability of the science, combined with the tendency of police and prosecution to believe they’ve always got the right person, gets in the way of the ideal. Would it be possible to write rules of evidence that provide sufficient safeguards, I wonder?

    But fundamentally, this goes back to the point I made to Tabman above: it’s not more okay for people to be fitted up (or simply wrongly convicted) just because they were convicted of something else in the past. I worry that we’re creating the idea of a principled difference between guilty and innocent people per se, as opposed to being guilty or not of a specific offence.

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Feb '10 - 10:30am

    Mark: I don’t think you’re right about the medical misuse of DNA profiles. While my understanding of the science is hazy at best, I don’t think a DNA profile (which is nothing like a full record of your genetic make-up, don’t forget) can be used to tell anything significant about your likely medical condition, or anything that someone would consider worth corruptly buying or putting online. This seems to me to come under the heading of generalised anxiety about hard-to-understand technology. If a database of this sort deserves to be opposed, let’s make sure it’s on the basis of real risks, rather than sci-fi scares.

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Feb '10 - 10:50am

    Sorry, my mistake. In that case, my objection reverts to the general character of the ‘wedge’ argument: Pretty much any system contains the seeds of something that can be abused in the future. Anarchists think that the answer is to have no state at all, of course, but that’s a different argument.

    I don’t mean to trivialise your point about what the database could develop into. Constant vigilance is needed, and assumed benefits should be questioned as much as assumed risks; but if there is an actual, present benefit to the use of this technology in this way, then that should be weighed against the actual, present risks of doing so, not some notional future risk of doing something significantly more intrusive.

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