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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 2004, 13:01 GMT
Fears over expanded DNA database
DNA testing
More than one million DNA samples are held on the database
Plans for a universal DNA database in England and Wales should be scrapped because of the threat to civil liberties, a new report urges.

The study, by academics at Durham and Nottingham universities, also calls for more independent scrutiny.

It urges the government to stop taking DNA samples from people not convicted of offences, and destroy those taken once sentences are served.

The Home Office has been sent a copy of the report.

More than one million biological samples from the likes of mouth swabs and blood tests are currently held on the world's first DNA database, set up in Birmingham in 1995.

A further 2.7 million profiles derived from sample tests are stored, with more than 40,000 fresh samples processed every month.

DNA matching has been hailed by police as an invaluable tool in solving "cold cases", where conventional techniques have left serious crimes unsolved - sometimes for decades.

We have long feared the creation of a national genetic database by stealth
Liberty spokesman

But lead author of the Wellcome Trust-funded study, Robin Williams of Durham University's School of Applied Social Sciences, told BBC News there are serious issues surrounding so-called "bio-surveillance".

He said: "There is no doubt that a DNA database is a very important investigative resource.

"But we must have public confidence and safeguards to prevent misuse and unauthorised access to sensitive genetic information.

"There are serious concerns about recent changes in the law, which allow the indefinite retention of biological samples and the taking of samples from those not convicted or even charged with an offence.

"These are the latest in a series of piecemeal changes that threaten to destabilise the delicate balance between public security and individual freedom in the collection and use of genetic information."

'Additional safeguards'

A spokesman for Liberty said: "We have long feared the creation of a national genetic database by stealth.

"Endless access to this kind of genetic material creates the potential for future governments to use DNA to dictate policies surrounding things like health and education."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The database is subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and is registered with the Information Commissioner.

"Additional safeguards are afforded by this Act, which make clear that this information can only be used for the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence and the conduct of a prosecution.

"In addition to this, the Forensic Science Service have created a database "custodian" role, responsible for oversight of all aspects of the database."

In compiling the report, its authors spoke to more than 60 people from organisations, including the police, forensic scientists, legal professionals, legislators, and human rights experts.




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