Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An illegal DNA databank in the UK

Back in 1995, the UK government set up a national DNA databank to hold the DNA profiles of people arrested and imprisoned. Since then it has become one of the most extensive DNA databases in the world, holding profiles on almost 6 million people (many of whom have not been charged with any crime). But that's not enough for the police - it turns out they've been keeping a parallel secret database without statutory authority:

Police and intelligence services have been sending terror suspects’ DNA to counterparts around the world with no official scrutiny over their actions, a government watchdog has warned.

The National DNA Database Ethics Group has demanded an explanation as fears emerged that a little-known archive of thousands of samples, often taken without permission from innocent people during counter-terrorism operations, had been operating with “no statutory basis”.

The group has also asked ministers to detail exactly what information from the Counter Terrorism DNA database – operated by the Metropolitan Police as an “adjunct” to the national database – has been handed to foreign governments and intelligence services, and what safeguards govern how the information is used.

This likely violates the Data Protection Act and possibly other legislation. The question now is whether the police will be punished for it, or whether they are in fact above the law.

Meanwhile, this raises an obvious question: are our police doing the same?