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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
DNA database warning
Tony Blair DNA tested
Not suspected of any offence, but DNA tested anyway
Experts on human genetics have warned that serious questions must be answered before Tony Blair's plan to register all criminals or suspects on a DNA database should be implemented.

The UK prime minister announced on Thursday that an extra 109m would be provided so the police could take and register some three million DNA samples within three years.

Should the DNA of those who commit traffic offences be put on a forensic database?

Sandy McCall Smith
But Sandy McCall Smith, vice president of the Human Genetics Commission, said there were concerns about the way the information was handled.

Mr McCall Smith said one particular worry was how serious an offence should be before the person who committed it had their DNA taken and registered.

Civil liberties concerns

The prime minister announced last year that he wanted all police forces to take DNA samples from anyone suspected of an offence which carried a prison term.

Jack Straw at Labour conference
Jack Straw tells Labour's conference about DNA plans
Following his increased allocation in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review, Home Secretary Jack Straw said more money would be made available for the DNA database.

Mr Blair's announcement of the 109m figure was immediately criticised by civil rights groups - criticism that was brushed aside by Mr Blair as "missing the point".

Mary Cunneen of Liberty said 50,000 DNA samples were already held illegally by the forensic science laboratory and the number would now rise.

"This is a clear breach of privacy for the individuals concerned," she said.

I believe that the civil liberties argument is completely misplaced. This is using technology to catch criminals

Tony Blair
Liberty director John Wadham said the other main concern was that the police would undertake enforced DNA testing on a blanket basis even where such evidence was irrelevant to the crime, such as fraud or shoplifting cases.

The police can already take DNA samples from anyone suspected of, charged with, or reported for a recordable crime, but the cost of 40 has led chief constables to recommend using the technique only for serious offences.

The extra money is designed to allow the police to take samples from people involved in minor cases.

Questions to be addressed

Mr McCall Smith said the HGC recognised the importance of the police having the best possible means of identifying criminals and DNA databases would be valuable in this way.

Echoing the concerns of the civil liberties groups, however, he asked which types of crime should be registered: "For example, should the DNA of those who commit traffic offences be put on a forensic database?

"Similarly, it might be asked how long should DNA information from convicted criminals or suspects remain on the database.

"These are questions which need to be addressed in order to ensure that what is an extremely useful tool for the police should enjoy the full confidence of the public," he said.

Mr McCall Smith said the HGC would consult the public about what controls might be necessary on DNA databases before making its recommendations to the government.

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See also:

01 Sep 00 | UK
A catalogue of criminals
31 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Extra police 'just part of reform plan'
29 Nov 99 | UK
DNA = Do Not Assume?
29 Nov 99 | UK Politics
DNA testing expanded
30 Jul 99 | UK
Rights fears over DNA plan
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