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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 13:40 GMT
Police DNA powers 'to be extended'
Police will be able to take fingerprints and DNA from anyone they arrest, whether they are charged or not, under new UK Government plans.

Civil liberties campaigners have already attacked the measures, accusing the government of treating innocent people who are wrongly arrested as "guilty by implication".

Under current rules, police can only take DNA samples from people once they have been charged with an offence.

Ministers argue that extending the current database will ensure suspects on the wanted list cannot pretend to be somebody else if they are arrested.

The change is being added to the Criminal Justice Bill but has raised concerns from opposition MPs.

Jack Straw, then home secretary, sparked controversy in 2001 when he proposed keeping all fingerprints and DNA samples even if a suspect was acquitted or never charged.

The Court of Appeal last year ruled that police could keep DNA and fingerprints from people charged with a crime and never convicted.

The Home Office denies it is surreptitiously building up a database of every citizen's DNA
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw

More than 1.5 million DNA profiles are held on the national database and the government wants to increase that number to three million by April 2004.

In 2001-2002, there were 1.27 million arrests for recordable offences.

Home Office Minister Lord Falconer said forensic science was helping the police to achieve great results.

"Taking the fingerprints of an arrested individual means police can be 100% certain about the identity of the person in their custody," he said.

"This stops suspects getting away with lying about their identities and prevents the release of those wanted for a previous offence."

The samples could also potentially help to crack serious unsolved crimes, such as rape or murder, he said.

Debate call

The idea came under fire from John Wadham, director of human rights group Liberty.

"If the government wants a national DNA and fingerprint database of all innocent citizens, and wants to treat us all as suspects not citizens, it should come out and say so," said Mr Wadham.

Fingerprints and DNA could already be taken if there was significant evidence that somebody was involved in a crime, he said.

This will ensure that anyone arrested and wanted in connection with previous offences is quickly identified
Ian Blair
Metropolitan Police
"This simply treats everyone who has ever been wrongly arrested as guilty by implication," added Mr Wadham.

The Home Office says police will have discretion about when they take samples and fingerprints.

It would be particularly useful in big towns and cities where there was a more transient criminal population, a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

The move was backed by Ian Blair, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

He said it would allow vulnerable or violent people to be "identified more quickly and dealt with more effectively".


Lord Falconer denied that the proposals would compromise civil liberties by creating a national database of information.

"There is absolutely no problem for those that are innocent," he said.

"A balance is to be struck as to from whom do you take fingerprints and DNA samples.

"We say the balance should be struck in respect of those that you arrest for serious offences. That seems like a very sensible balance to strike."

This is another step on the road to holding every citizen's DNA on the national database
Simon Hughes
Liberal Democrat

But the plans prompted concerns among the opposition parties.

Conservative frontbencher Dominic Grieve did not object to the change if it was intended to help police discover whether an arrested suspect was wanted for other crimes.

But the samples should be destroyed once someone was cleared, he argued.

There would be "serious civil liberties connotations" if the move was part of efforts to build up a database about people never charged with any offence, said Mr Grieve.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "This is another step on the road to holding every citizen's DNA on the national database, and it is being done with virtually no public debate.

"DNA is an increasingly valuable tool in the fight against crime. But we should not allow the success stories to dazzle us into forgetting that our civil liberties are at stake."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"At labs in Middlesex DNA swabs are analysed and put into a national database"

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