Chris Pounder has written an article debunking the claims of the Labour Party that the DNA profiles of innocent people who have never been convicted of an offence should be held indefinitely. Alan Johnson, then Home Secretary, used case studies as examples for why this retention was necessary, however in all three the retention of DNA would not have helped or harmed the investigations.
There is a real risk that after similar U-turns on NHS reform and prison sentencing, the Government may backtrack on the very important step of deleting the DNA profiles of these people, in an effort to improve civil liberties in Britain and roll back the intrusions of the state as part of the Freedom Bill.
You can read the whole article by clicking here.
On the website, you can find a map of the 43 Police forces across the UK and information about the way in which they use the national DNA database. The information for each county is broken down by the by gender, current age and visual appearance of individuals included on the database.
You can find the data here.
Do let us know if you find any gems.
Finally, three years after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) came to the conclusion that holding the DNA of innocent people is unlawful, the Supreme Court have reached a similar verdict. The ruling, made today, declares that the existing policy of keeping DNA profiles of people in England and Wales who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime is excessive and violates privacy rights.
Since the ruling by the ECHR (in the case known as S & Marper v. United Kingdom) in February 2008 more than 200,000 additional innocent people have been added to the DNA register, bringing the total to over 1.1 million. The guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) state that chief constables can order the deletion of DNA profiles and fingerprints only when there are “exceptional circumstances.” One infamous example is the immigration minister Damian Green who was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of misconduct. He subsequently asked for his DNA to be deleted, which the Met agreed to do.
Lord Dyson said in the Supreme Court ruling:
"It is appropriate to grant a declaration that the present ACPO guidelines ... are unlawful because, as clearly demonstrated by Marper, they are incompatible with the ECHR.”
"It is important that, in such an important and sensitive area as the retention of biometric data by the police, the court reflects its decision by making a formal order to declare what it considers to be the true legal position. But it is not necessary to go further."
However, unfortunately the judges have still failed to make any immediate changes to the situation, or set out a timeline for the eventual deletion of the date. The government have previously signalled their intentions to bring the legislation into force later this year as part of the protection of freedoms bill as proposed by the home secretary Theresa May.
It is scandalous that even after three years these 1.1 million innocent people still have their DNA on the national database. The government must ensure the protection of freedoms bill currently going through parliament does not get watered down or challenged, these people must be given back the security of their biometric data.
The choices are simple, either all convicted criminals have their DNA on the database, or every British citizen has their DNA on the database. It is grossly unfair for this many innocent people who have never been convicted of any crime to suffer the same indignity of criminals for no legitimate reason.
The paper concludes that, while real progress has been made, many of the Coalition's promises to roll back the power of the state remain unfulfilled.
Commenting on the report, Big Brother Watch Director Daniel Hamilton said:
"The Coalition has some real achievements to speak off.
"Ministers should be congratulated for taking steps to scrap ID cards and remove the profiles of the one million innocent people held on the national DNA database. They should also be praised for doing away with the ContactPoint database of children’s details and reforming the criminal record check regime.
"They do, however, have more work to do.
"Police stop and search powers remain in place, Control Orders remain virtually unreformed and there has been no opt-out from the European Arrest Warrant. When it comes to E-Borders, the Summary Care Record and Intercept Modernisation Programme, they have continued to implement the previous government’s policies – warts and all."
The planned deletion of the DNA profiles of millions of innocent people still lacks a definitive timetable, it was revealed today. Conservative MP Philip Davies asked the government how much time would be required once the legislation has been passed to remove the DNA of people who have been found innocent but whose records remain on the database. Home Office minister James Brokenshire said:
"Our aim is to remove the vast majority of non-convicted people from the NDNAD (National DNA Database) as soon as is practicable, following enactment of the relevant provisions."
The minister had previously announced that over 6 million DNA profiles have now been entered onto the database since it was created, including more than 1 million people who do not have "a current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand".
Whereas previously DNA could be kept indefinitely by the police, even if someone had been arrested but not charged or convicted, the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2011 sets out new legislation. Those arrested for minor crimes will have their DNA removed if they are not convicted, however anyone arrested for a serious crime will have their record kept for three years as a precaution.
Certain elements of the police have attempted to use the deletion of DNA from the database as a means to scare the public via reports in the media about rapists and murderers going free as a result. Genewatch UK dismissed the police figures claiming an additional 1,000 crimes may occur every year as false, determining the real number to be closer to 12 low-level crimes.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, challenged the plans of the government:
"They are going too far in restricting the use of DNA from suspects who have been arrested. Of course there must be safeguards in the system, but sensible use of DNA also helps catch very dangerous criminals and prevents innocent people being wrongly charged too."
These people, many of whom are children, have never been found guilty of a crime; however their DNA records still remain on a database amongst violent criminals. The government must move swiftly to enact this legislation, delete these records and establish good practice for maintaining a DNA database.
The director of Genewatch UK, Dr Helen Wallace, has moved to allay people’s fears of dangerous rapists and murderers escaping detection after inaccurate claims relating to the DNA database were published in The Times yesterday. The claims were made on Tuesday during police evidence to the committee of MPs discussing the Protection of Freedoms Bill.
It includes provisions for the removal of more than a million innocent people from the DNA database, which police suggested could lead to 1,000 crimes a year not being solved. GeneWatch dispute the figures, and claim they are seriously misleading as well as having the potential to spread panic through the populace. They released a statement explaining:
“The figures are exaggerated because they are based on a false assumption that innocent people are as likely to commit future offences as people convicted of serious or multiple offences: in fact about eight out of ten offences are committed by a small number of repeat offenders. They are also estimates of database matches not convictions: only about a quarter of matches lead to convictions. Less that one per cent of crimes involving a DNA match are rapes and most rapes involve disputes about consent that cannot be resolved using DNA.”
Taking account of these factors, GeneWatch presented their own adjusted estimates of around 12 crimes a year. In addition, these are not serious crimes such as murder or rape, but ‘high volume’ crimes such as theft and burglary. They also brought up some of the strangest reported cases of innocent people on the DNA datavase such as:
“a 12-year old-schoolboy arrested for allegedly stealing a pack of Pokemon cards; a grandmother arrested for failing to return a football kicked into her garden; a ten-year-old victim of bullying who had a false accusation made against her; a 14-year-old girl arrested for allegedly pinging another girl's bra; a 13-year-old who hit a police car with a snowball; a computer technician wrongly accused of being a terrorist; Janet Street-Porter; comedian Mark Thomas; and MPs Greg Hands and Damian Green.”
It will always be in the interest of the police to maintain the largest possible DNA database, as it can on occasion make their admittedly difficult work easier. However, holding the records of more than a million innocent citizens, including an estimated 100,000 children, for the sake of 12 low level crimes a year is completely disproportionate. Here at Big Brother Watch we hope the records are destroyed as soon as possible.
Last Friday, the government published its new Freedom Bill. Included in the document was a commitment from the government to delete the majority of the data belonging to innocent people from the national DNA database.
Sadly, Conservative MP Laurence Robertson does not agree with his party's own position on this issue. Indeed, in comments to his local paper in Gloucestershire, he has gone one step further and called for everyone to have their details stored on a central database.
"At the moment, only the DNA of people arrested can be taken and stored. I know some people object to this, but others are of the view there should be a full databank of everyone's DNA.
"In no way does having DNA stored restrict freedom – quite the reverse, if storing and using DNA helps to prevent crime."
Astonishingly, Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood - a man representing a party who have consistently opposed the storing of innocent people's DNA - backed Robertson's position.
"I am quite sympathetic.
"I think there's an argument for more people to be on the DNA database but the problem has been discriminating between different groups.
"If everyone was on it, that would be less of a problem, but we would need to persuade the public that wasn't a threat to our collective civil liberties".
Erm, perhaps Mr Horwood would like to explain how the creation of a vast, central database of the intricate biological data of every British citizen can be squared with any conception of civil liberties?
Today, the streets of Bristol have been blessed with a degree of sanity, as Avon and Somerset police have rejected moves for widespread DNA screening as part of their enquiry into the murder of Jo Yeates. On Christmas Day, her body was found after an eight-day long search, marking the beginning of an extensive murder investigation, which, two weeks on, looks no closer to being brought to a conclusion. This story has shocked the whole of the city and the family’s anguish has no doubt been felt in every living room across the United Kingdom, uniting us all in the attempt to find out who is responsible and bring them to justice.
One thing we should not do, however, is set aside our principles, our way of life and indeed the civil liberties of every other innocent person in Bristol, just as Labour MP and Shadow Junior Minister for the Treasury, Kerry McCarthy has suggested. Yesterday, she called for every man in Bristol to step forward and offer their DNA to the police; a monumental quarter of a million people, saying that "it is a massive task to do a DNA swab for the whole of the city but I think if it helps catch the killer it is the right thing to do and people will be happy to do this." Testing this many suspects would firstly be a massive investment of time and resources and, of course, a complete waste of both if the guilty individual lives or has moved outside the area, or indeed if they are a female.
Britain already has the largest per capita DNA database in the world, with more than a million innocent people on it. Indeed, as Big Brother Watch demonstrated in our DNA report, people are already mistreated when their DNA is taken.
Most importantly though, it would be a sacrifice of one of the primary values by which free citizens live their lives, encompassing a whole range of civil liberties, and would be an erosion of one of the most sacred elements of UK law; the presumption of innocence.
McCarthy’s call is systematic of an ever-present process that has seen our country progress from one which flew the flag for principles of freedom, liberty and positive rights to a nation that is so Orwellian in its nature, it beggars belief. I, for one, am glad the police have restrained from pursuing with McCarthy’s suggestion and I wish them every success in bringing whoever is guilty to justice, but through proper and rightful means.
Guest post by Jago Pearson.
More information about BBW's position on this important issue is further outlined on the Critical Reaction and ConservativeHome websites. Futhrmore, Big Brother Watch Director Alex Deane was interviewed about the DNA database on Radio 4 last year.
Reform of the national DNA database is discussed at length by Julian Huppert MP in the new Big Brother Watch book, which can be purchased by clicking here.
I attended Nick Clegg's speech this morning, and discussed it on Victoria Derbyshire's show on Radio 5 Live today. Over at Public Service I have written an article which puts the argument more fully. In case you're interested, I thought I'd reproduce it here:
Perhaps against our better judgment, I and a number of other civil libertarians trudged through the rain to listen to Nick Clegg's speech at the Institute of Government today. What a waste of time it was.
One appreciates that today is the Deputy Prime Minister's birthday, but there's still no excuse for giving a speech so entirely without substance as this. Effectively, this was the governmental equivalent of the boy who cried "wolf" – he called a press conference, but had nothing to say. As I said with praise at the time, the mood music on offer when the coalition was formed was extremely encouraging – but now, fully seven months on, it is profoundly depressing for anyone who cares about freedom to find all-but exactly the same music on offer, with no substantive additions at all.
Mr Clegg spent a great deal of time talking about the expansion of Freedom of Information, which although hardly revolutionary is significant and welcome, and on libel and defamation reform, on which there was some substance. The trouble there is that that latter issue falls squarely in Ken Clarke's patch, not Clegg's, but – his desparate team must have thought – so what? The DPM desperately needed something substantive to say. And he'd obviously been denied any meat – at all – on the issues everyone was there for, i.e. our profoundly illiberal anti-terror legislation, under which hundreds of thousands of people are stopped and searched at random without a single terror-related arrest, people are kept under detention for a month before they're even charged, and individuals can be put on control orders indefinitely. All of this, he said, fell under the purview of the Home Secretary, and he wouldn't presume to say anything about it – peculiar, one might think, for the man supposedly in charge of the Freedom Bill, especially on the Control Orders front.
The case for action on this is plain, and not only because the Liberal Democrats were so clear and principled on the issue before the election. Control Orders are completely immoral. If you're a victim of this pernicious form of house arrest, not only are you denied sight of the evidence against you, you're not even told the nature of the accusation. So there's simply no way to defend yourself from it. When the Government can restrict liberty like this on a whim, it is not enough, on the one hand, to speak in head-shaking, deep-toned, pseudo-profound terms about the "grave threat" we face, and on the other offer assurances that the police and security services "know what they're doing" (just ask Jean-Charles De Menezes or Ian Tomlinson what they'd make of such assertions). At times like these, faced with an objectively less significant threat than this country faced throughout the 1970s, the kneejerk reaction on show from the last government is truly the greatest threat posed to our free society.
Such a threat is far from merely theoretical. Blame my barristerial background, perhaps, but I'm old-fashioned enough to believe in the presumption of innocence, and in trying people accused of crimes in courts, then finding them innocent or guilty. Such basic principles were gravely harmed by the last government, and once such bright line principles are breached then the freedoms of all of us are threatened.
Though he talks a good game, Clegg has hitherto done and is doing precisely nothing to reverse this illiberality. There were lofty words on offer on covert surveillance for absurd things and on our DNA database, the largest per capita in the world, with the details of more than an innocent people on it. There was even a single line about limiting the power of representatives of the state to enter private property.It was all rather familiar [for BBW followers...]. But on absolutely none of it was there any specificity. So one fears that the delays, reviews and empty speeches (co-ordinated with a suspiciously well-timed parade of supposedly impartial grandees coming out against Control Orders, and a remarkably coincidental escalation in the terror level we are told we face) are taking place as a prelude to substituting effectively the same kinds of regime on all of these issues. This is why, for example, one views Clegg's preferred formula, "Control Orders cannot survive in their current form", with such suspicion. We are very likely, I fear, to see a cosmetic change offered as a sop to the Liberal Democrats, with no real genuine action at all.
I do not allege that Clegg is actually happy with this. Perhaps he is making all manner of uncomfortable compromises. But is he actually right to do so? Of course the Lib Dems are enjoying the trappings of power, but Mr Clegg has to ask himself – is he truly the Deputy Prime Minister, or not? If he is, then this kind of delay by others on his fundamental manifesto pledges, leading to his excuse-riddled inaction, is simply inexcusable. If he's not… then what's he doing in the Coalition?
By Alex Deane
If you click the DNA button in the cloud on the right, you'll see that there's a lot of debate over DNA on this site (and in my columns elsewhere). I wonder if in 80 or 90 years' time, it will emerge that doubts over DNA detection will emerge to have been correct?
Worth thinking about today, as a senior judge raises concerns over fingerprint evidence used in criminal trials, warning that it rests on “assumptions” that have never been scientifically proven:
Lord Justice Leveson, an appeal judge and chairman of the Sentencing Council, called into question the “century old” identification process, which he said was often considered “virtually unassailable” in tying a person to a crime.The judge said that there have been “numerous” recent cases of innocent people being wrongly singled out by fingerprint evidence.In a speech to the Forensic Science Society in London, he said the analysis of fingerprints by experts was “fundamentally subjective” and that it was therefore “inherently capable of misidentifications”.
Lord Justice Leveson called for new research to be carried out to ensure fingerprinting is “robust” and reliable.“There is growing unease among fingerprint examiners and researchers that the century old fingerprint identification process rests on assumptions that have never been tested empirically,” he said.Speaking about the use of expert evidence in court cases, the senior judge said it was vital to have a “methodology and a hypothesis that are capable of withstanding robust testing”.“Arguably, as it currently stands, the science of fingerprint identification does not,” he added.
If (only now, after countless thousands of convictions based on it) we are told that we should doubt the century-old "proven" fingerprint technique, what problems might lie with DNA (or ANPR, or facial recognition technology...), discovered in the future, but resulting in wrongful convictions today..?
By Alex Deane
In a keynote speech at the Political Studies Association/Hansard Society Annual Lecture on Tuesday evening, Nick Clegg spoke of the protection of civil liberties as being one of the core elements of the modern British Constitution.
He outlined in very clear terms that he believes people should not have to put up with unnecessary spying or interference and continued, “no law abiding citizen must ever fear arbitrary intrusion or harassment from the state”. He specifically mentioned ID cards, unregulated CCTV, fingerprinting of children without parent’s consent and the indefinite retention of DNA as “illegitimate intrusions”. He also drew attention to the current reviewing of counter-terrorism legislation.
It is reassuring to hear that the Deputy Prime Minster still has these issues in his top priorities, and this hopefully suggests that the forthcoming Freedom Bill will deliver real changes.
Click here to read the full speech.
By Amy Wevill
If you would be interesting in writing a guest post, please e-mail email@example.com.
This evening will see the launch of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch’s new publication, ‘Fight Terror, Defend Freedom’ by Dominic Raab MP.
The launch of the book will take place between 5:00pm and 6:00pm today in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament.
Mr Raab, who was an international lawyer prior to his election to Parliament, will introduce his publication, followed by a panel discussion including former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Centre for Technology Policy Research Jerry Fishenden and Big Brother Watch Director Alex Deane.
Commenting on the launch of the publication Raab said:
“Today’s publication of the National Security Strategy, highlights the flaws in the last government’s approach to counter-terrorism. Too much time, money and effort was wasted on ‘sound byte’ security. Too many of Labour’s measures, like ID cards and prolonged detention without charge, were unnecessary or irrelevant to our security.
“The government has a golden opportunity to break with this flawed approach. We should be defending our freedoms, like free speech and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, the justice system is an underused weapon in the fight against terrorism. We should be strengthening our capacity to prosecute terrorists – not least by lifting the ban on using intercept as evidence.”
Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch said:
“The case for action is now irresistible. Dominic Raab’s publication shows the injustices being done every day in this country. Stop and search and control orders are being reviewed – why? Why review something when you know it’s wrong?“
"British freedoms for British People"
Thank you for that introduction. It painted a bleak picture of the authoritarian state built up under thirteen years of Labour rule.
What struck me after my own arrest, and my successful campaign to have my DNA taken off the database after I was cleared, was the anger in the letters that came in from those in a similar position. Former army officers, magistrates, grandmothers in small towns who had never dreamed of offending, were all united in their distrust of the police and the authorities more generally. These are the people we have always thought of as the backbone of respectable society. Alienating them from the law enforcement authorities would be a disaster. This is one of the quiet ways that New Labour lost Middle Britain.
And even Labour’s new leader seems to agree. Ed Miliband claimed in his Conference speech last week that he wants to ‘reclaim’ liberty for the Labour Party. He has admitted that:
“I've said throughout this campaign that I believe New Labour was at times too casual about the liberty of individuals.[..] We made mistakes over ID cards and 42-day detention and how we handled stop and search powers. ”
Words are cheap. Will we see action from Ed Miliband?
The million plus innocent DNA profiles on the national database remains one of the great intrusions on liberty in our country today. Despite good pre-election sounds from both of the coalition parties (in particular from now Immigration Minister, Damian Green) there has been little movement towards ending this injustice.
We do expect to see it included in the coming 'Freedom Bill', and note with distaste that the new leader of the Labour Party is unlikely to help in the push for DNA database reform; but stories like this one from Thinq.co.uk remind us that there is no time like the present for a much needed change:
Police will soon have the means to grab someone's genetic sample and run it through the national DNA database while waiting in the street, if early trials by military industrial giant Lockheed Martin are successful.
Handheld genetic scanners are on the drawing board, while the first suit-case-sized prototype will be tested by police forces within the year.
The RapI.D. DNA test technology will give police unprecedented power to identify someone and check them against a criminal database.
"We expect to be able to conduct genetic ID testing in under one hour," said a spokeswoman for ZyGEM, which is producing the while-you-wait DNA test.
Which is tremendous news: the illegal (as ruled by the European Court) practice of retaining the DNA of innocent people is now set to become even easier.
In case you have been taken in by the previous Government's loyalty to keeping innocent people on the DNA database, I would like to point you towards our own research paper - Cataloguing the Innocent - and the selection of stories we have on this issue here.
By Dylan Sharpe
There's a fair bit of chat online about David Ed Miliband's Labour Party Conference speech. Relevant for us:
"I won't let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition."
Which sounds good. After all they did to trash liberty whilst in government, that's welcome news. And what does he have in mind?
Miliband mentioned as examples Tony Blair's plans for 90 days' detention without crime – which were blocked by Parliament – and the "broad use" of anti-terrorism laws.
Agreed. That was terrible. We should all welcome Miliband abandoning those serious violations of long-held British liberties. But he went on to say:
"They just undermined the important things we did like CCTV and DNA testing."
Ed Miliband should take a good long look at his party's record on privacy and freedom whilst in Government. The past 12 years were characterised by a massive overreaction to terrorism, trashing long-held freedoms in return for no real improvement in security.
Although it is heartening to see that many in the Labour Party – including its new leader – now accept that the last Government's record of authoritarianism and snooping was unpopular, admitting fault while defending the twin evils of mass CCTV surveillance and keeping innocent people on the DNA database suggests that we are unlikely to see much of a change in Labour Party policy. I sincerely hope that that is not the case.
By Alex Deane
In the DNA database debate that occurred during the election, one important point was quite often missed: namely that DNA evidence is not the infallible witness that is so often claimed.
We have written before about the dangers present in investing too much faith in DNA, but today the details of a study by the New Scientist have been revealed which further emphasise the flaws in the argument of those - like Philip Davies - that believe in putting everyone in the country on the DNA database.
The magazine sent a sample of DNA from a real crime scene to 17 experienced analysts in an U.S. laboratory. The experts' differing results cast doubts over the technique's reliability.
The sample, from a gang rape, had already been used to convict a man - but only one of the 17 scientists came to the same conclusion. Four said the evidence was inconclusive and 12 said he could be excluded.
Itiel Dror, a University College London scientist who helped set up the investigation, said: 'It is time DNA analysts accept that under certain conditions, subjectivity may affect their work.'
Christine Funk, a defence lawyer in the U.S., said: 'The difference between prison and freedom rests in the hands of the scientist assigned the case.'
That final line should put a shiver through anyone who believes in trial by jury. Hopefully studies like this can put an end to the sort of nonsense we saw from Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman when the pros and cons of removing innocent profiles from the database were being debated.
By Dylan Sharpe
As the Daily Telegraph explains:
Lorretta Cole says she was trying to teach her neighbour's children a lesson after she claims the ball repeatedly landed on her property and even damaged her car.
The 47-year-old retrieved the £3.99 ball from land in front of her home in Baddesley Close, North Baddesley, Hampshire, and refused to give it back when asked by the father of the children.
Mrs Cole said that at the police station she was detained for five hours while she was questioned, had her photograph, DNA swab and fingerprints taken.
Following the interview at Lyndhurst police station, Mrs Cole was released on police bail pending advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Without knowing the full details of the case, I can only really say that Mrs Cole probably shouldn't have held onto the ball - although it is worth noting that while she did not contact the police over potential criminal damage, the father of the boys was only too keen to get the boys in blue involved.
But, honestly, did Lyndhurst police really think that she was in any way a criminal? Did they consider whether, on this occasion, it might make sense to forego loading Mrs Cole's DNA onto the database?
Big Brother Watch are asking Mrs Cole (or anyone who knows her) to contact us and let us help her get her biometric data back.
By Dylan Sharpe
A worrying story over at the Leicester Mercury:
More than 10,000 babies in Leicestershire had their DNA stored on an NHS database last year without the proper consent of their parents, it has been claimed.
Blood samples are taken from newborn infants around the country in routine heel prick tests to screen for serious health problems.
But it has emerged they are banked in databases for years by hospitals, and could be accessed by police looking to identify criminal suspects.
Please do read the whole thing. Are you a parent whose child was born in this period? If so, were you informed that this was happening? Big Brother Watch would like to hear from you.
By Alex Deane
As we have discussed on this site many times, perhaps one third of samples on the DNA database are from innocent
people, and the practice of retention has – since 2008 – been viewed as
unlawful by the European Court. The relationship between the
individual and the state is distorted by the retention of samples from
those who have not been convicted of any offence. Retention is very
unpopular and does not assist in crime fighting,
sometimes leading to miscarriages of justice.
Our research highlighted the injustice of the current law on this issue. The removal of such samples is in any case already policy in Scotland, leading to the inequitable situation in which people are treated very differently depending on where they live (or are arrested) in the country.
The removal of samples of innocent people was Conservative Party policy prior to the election (as outlined in the Policy Paper Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State) and this also appears as a commitment in the Coalition document.
However, despite the fact that this would only require a simple administrative decision to rectify, action has yet to be taken, leaving everyone affected by the unjust status quo in limbo.
One person is just that situation is an upstanding woman named Frances Clarke, who was arrested and detained for hours and had her DNA sample taken in relation to an allegation which was promptly withdrawn. She has struggled with the system for months to get her sample removed, or at least get a meaningful answer from the state about what was happening with it.
Big Brother Watch has assisted Frances in her case, which was discussed on Radio 4's "Law in Action" programme this week, and you can listen to the broadcast here.
By Alex Deane
It's been a while since we last talked about the DNA database, but over 1 million innocent people are still having their biometric data tested every time the police turn-up a DNA sample at a crime scene.
Contrary to the oft repeated propaganda of our previous government, there is simply no evidence to suggest that keeping the DNA of innocent people is of benefit to law enforcement. Whereas there are real concerns surrounding the retention and security of our DNA.
Now we find further evidence to suggest that DNA samples are being misused by police in the UK (from BBC Yorks):
The storage of forensic evidence at police stations in North Yorkshire has been criticised by inspectors.
"There were problems with the handling of DNA and other samples at custody suites", said a report by the chief inspectors of constabulary and prisons.
"There were problems with the storage and handling of DNA and forensic samples at most of the custody sites," the report said. Some samples dated back to 2007, while others were undated and/or not stored in date order.
In a research note released before the election, Big Brother Watch identified the technical problems with adopting the Scottish model of periodic DNA deletion - something we have argued for. As our research found, without a link between the police national computer (PNC) and DNA database, the police will struggle to get the right samples deleted.
The Coalition Government has identified the DNA database as being in need of reform but have so far been unable to specify what they plan to do. We need to see some movement on this: there are 1 million people waiting to be cleared - once and for all - of crimes they never committed.
By Dylan Sharpe
Today the Queen will arrive at the House of Lords and announce the legislative priorities for the next Parliament.
Included in the speech, we are reliably informed, will be a move to adopt the Scottish model for the DNA database, which does not permanently retain DNA records for those not charged with an offence (something Big Brother Watch called for in our election manifesto).
This should be uncontroversial but, incredibly, just this morning I heard the picturesque former European Minister, Caroline Flint, decrying the policy on BBC Breakfast. Sadly indicative of our previous government, Flint's lack of concern for presumed innocence has been mirrored in another recent story from the Sunday Times:
Hospitals have quietly created banks of DNA from blood taken from millions of newborn babies without the proper consent of their parents, emails show.
Freedom of information (FOI) requests to hospitals around Britain have established that the blood samples, taken in heel-prick tests to screen for serious conditions, have been privately stored by parts of the NHS since 1984.
According to guidance obtained by The Sunday Times, the DNA can be looked at by police, coroners and some medical researchers. They are able to identify named individuals.
Up to 4m samples are being held at four of the 16 centres licensed to hold newborns’ bloodspots in the UK, according to the FOI responses. More than 700,000 babies are screened each year.
The police and coroners can apply for access to the infant blood samples, which contain individual DNA, to identify people involved in crimes.
If the scale of this infant DNA database is scary, the fact it has been created without the informed consent of parents and hidden from proper criticism is scarier still. You can find Big Brother Watch's opposition to the DNA database elsewhere on the site, but I thought it would be better to end this post with recent quotes from two pre-eminent DNA scientists.
First, Sir Alec Jeffreys, the pioneer of DNA fingerprinting, in the Telegraph today:
....In fact, more than 70 per cent of all the stored DNA profiles in Europe are British, which Jeffreys admits is “an alarming statistic”. He has heard that some police officers have been encouraged to make arrests so as to get more samples. “It has run out of control. A fair number of people don’t mind being on the database, but some are deeply distressed, and I have even heard of a suicide...”
And in the New Scientist, new Lib Dem MP and former DNA research fellow at Cambridge, Julian Huppert:
...it's quite easy to fake a DNA sample if you have access to somebody's records on a database. There are also clear statistical differences between two different ways of using DNA data. I have no problem with the use of DNA data. But if you have a suspect and a sample from a site, and you do a match, that can give you very different statistical information from saying, "Here is a sample, test against millions of possible people and find a match." The statistics between those two are very, very different, and I don't think courts, lawyers, or the public understands the difference...
By Dylan Sharpe
In the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, I was saddened to see that Public Policy Editor, Alasdair Palmer, had written a particularly wretched article decrying the scrapping of ID cards and innocent DNA retention.
The article - with its delightfully understated title 'Why the coalition is set to bring us a rise in crime' - has numerous flaws which require urgent correction:
Most of us think that a top priority of any effective government should be to have clear and coherent policies on cutting crime. So it’s surprising to discover that the deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems says nothing about it.
The closest it gets is a statement that “the parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion” – which means, among other things, abolishing ID cards and “adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database”.
But getting rid of ID cards and making it harder for the police to retain DNA records is not going to reduce crime: if anything, it will increase it, by making crime harder to detect and criminals more difficult to apprehend.
Urgh! Before reminding Mr Palmer of the piddling issues of personal privacy and habeas corpus, let's consider the statistics, shall we?
As was revealed earlier this year, just 0.3% of solved crimes in Britain are due to the DNA database. The research shows that - despite the massive expansion in the Government database - only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile. The Scottish model, which Alasdair seems so opposed to, simply reduces the length of time innocent DNA profiles (around a third of the current database) can be retained from 6 to 3 years.
I would love to ask Mr Palmer how he thinks ID cards would facilitate crime prevention? Is his ideal world one in which every UK citizen carries identification that the Police can order to see at any time; to paraphrase our new PM's infamous gaffe - "ver are your papers?" Not even our overbearing previous government were ready to go that far!
But the greater point is that, given the very minor crime fighting benefit - and we are yet to be convinced by any case in which a previously innocent person's DNA profile has helped solve a crime - is Alasdair Palmer really prepared to spend billions on an ID card scheme and enormous state DNA database that puts our identity and biometric data in the hands of countless thousands of government bureaucrats?
Government rates of data loss, abuse of data, and the very simple fact that liberty is ours to keep, not the state's to take, should be enough. But Mr Palmer seems ready to sacrifice all of this simply to appear tough on crime. Shameful.
By Dylan Sharpe
This morning a report has found that at least one police station in England has shown serious incompetence when handling DNA samples. As the BBC explains:
The inspection found samples had been left in a freezer at two police stations in Hackney, east London, instead of being sent for analysis.
The findings came in a joint report by HM Chief Inspectors of Constabulary and of Prisons.
The report found some DNA samples held in a freezer and fridge in a CID office at Shoreditch police station had not been submitted to the National DNA Database, where they could be matched to other DNA profiles.
In Stoke Newington, a police freezer contained DNA samples dating back almost a year.
The use of the National DNA database by police forces in England and Wales is a complete mess, driven by a target culture that encourages officers to take and catalogue samples from the innocent, without deleting them.
The European Court has already ruled against Britain's approach to the database once, so it comes as no surprise that some police forces are unable to understand the correct processes.
The changes to the DNA database proposed by the coalition government can't come soon enough.
By Dylan Sharpe
I would really like to move away from the government's approach to CCTV and DNA, but things like this (from the Daily Mirror)...
Women will be more at risk on the streets under the Tories, Home Secretary Alan Johnson warned last night. He said attacks on women would be more likely as the Conservatives were not committed to funding CCTV and wanted to ditch suspects' DNA
...just keep provoking me (as do some of the conclusions reached by the BBC's 'Reality Check' - which manages to imply that keeping innocent people on the DNA database is a useful tool); so I wanted to have one last word - based entirely around official, unarguable, statistics.
Firstly, on DNA evidence (from the Daily Mail):
Home Office research shows that - despite the massive expansion in the Government database - only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile.
That is one in every 1,300 of the 4.9million crimes carried out, and just one in 350, or 0.3 per cent, of the 1.3million crimes solved by police, according to the home affairs select committee.
The figure included crimes where the DNA was taken from a suspect the police were already questioning, then matched to the crime scene.
Crimes that a suspect asked to be taken into consideration were also included, even though only the first offence may have involved DNA.
Secondly, on CCTV evidence (from the Evening Standard):
Metropolitan Police figures show a 71 per cent drop in the number of crimes "in which CCTV was involved" from 416,000 in 2003-04 to 121,770 in 2008-09. The number of these crimes which led to a charge, summons or caution fell from 47,000 to 23,000.
The proportion of all crimes solved using CCTV in London fell from half in 2003-04 to one in seven in 2008-09.
A report by a House of Lords committee last year found that an estimated £200 million has been spent on new cameras in London in the 10 years up until 2006.
This is not party-political, it is just trying to counter Alan Johnson's scaremongering, lying tactics on DNA and CCTV. The Conservatives, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid...almost every other party standing for election have committed to regulating surveillance and removing innocent people from the NDNA database. But the government just won't admit they are wrong in their rush to appear 'tough on crime'.
I hope, this is the final word...
By Dylan Sharpe
Earlier this month Big Brother Watch released research with a comparison of the approaches of Cumbria (English police force) and Strathclyde (a Scottish police force) to DNA retention, namely:
Today we are provided with a more obvious comparison, courtesy of the BBC:
A move to allow Scottish police forces to hold the DNA of innocent people for up to six years has been thrown out by a committee of MSPs.
Labour's amendment to the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill would have brought Scots law in line with the rest of the UK.
But the proposal was opposed by SNP, Lib Dem and Tory members of Holyrood's justice committee. The amendment was rejected by five votes to three.
Yet what happened in our own UK parliament days after the election was called and we entered 'Wash Up' in the corridors of power? As this post may remind you, the Government fought for - and the Tories caved into - allowing the DNA of innocent people to be retained for six years.
In our election manifesto, Big Brother Watch call for the immediate adoption of the Scottish method - maximum 3 years and periodic removal of the DNA of those later found innocent - in England and Wales. Kudos to Holyrood's Justice Committee for standing firm.
By Dylan Sharpe
Up to a third of DNA profiles added each year are from people later found innocent
As you may have seen in the Daily Telegraph, today Big Brother Watch has released our first research note into the DNA database titled: Cataloguing the Innocent: The differing approach of police forces to the innocent profiles on the National DNA database (you can read the full research note by clicking here).
On 4th December 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that keeping the DNA profiles of two men from Sheffield - who had previously been cleared of criminal charges - on the British police DNA database was a breach of their human rights. Reacting to the court’s decision, Jacqui Smith - then Home Secretary - said that "the existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgement."
Although there are an estimated one million innocent people on the national DNA database, it is not known how many innocent profiles are being added by each police force and how many of those are being removed without being prompted.
Cataloguing the Innocent is a summary of our efforts to collate data on how many innocent profiles are being added by police forces in the UK and why the current system in use makes it almost impossible for England and Wales to comply with the European Court ruling requiring that they be removed.
The key findings are:
Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, said:
"Up to a third of DNA profiles added each year belong to people who have never committed a crime, yet the system currently being used in England and Wales makes it virtually impossible for the police to delete innocent profiles from the National Database.
"This contravenes the European Court ruling and represents a significant intrusion into our personal privacy.
"There is no reason why the model used in Scotland, which allows for the period deletion of innocent profiles, should not be implemented in England and Wales as soon as possible."
To read the full analysis please click here.
In a speech in Stevenage, Gordon Brown has just name-checked the mother of Sally Anne Bowman – the young girl murdered in Croydon in 2006.
This is not the first time that the Government has invoked this dreadful event to try and justify the retention of innocent DNA profiles. As Alan Johnson wrote in November last year:
“It is unlikely that Mark Dixie, the murderer of Sally Anne Bowman, would ever have been found had his DNA profile not been recorded following his involvement in a pub brawl, after which he had been released without charge.”
The version of events that the Home Secretary likes to use, claim that Dixie was brought to justice for Sally Anne's murder by chance when he was arrested, had his DNA taken, but was not charged after getting into a minor scuffle over a World Cup football match.
However, Dixie had 16 convictions in the UK and at least one in Australia, including five sexual offences. This shocking article in The Sun shows that he was suspected of crimes in various countries across the globe and may even have killed while living in Australia in the 1990s. Dixie's criminal record in Britain began in 1986. Between then and 1990, he committed robbery, burglary, assaulting a police officer, indecent assault, indecent exposure and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Mark Dixie was a known sex offender, criminal and general low-life. Instead of deliberately arresting innocent people just to get their DNA (as was reported last year by the Human Genetics Commission), the Police and Government should have focused on compiling a DNA database of those with a string of previous convictions for the highest level offences e.g. assault, sex offences, robbery etc. Then the ‘chance’ of catching Dixie, that the Labour Party take such delight in exploiting at every available opportunity, wouldn’t need to have occurred.
As was revealed earlier this year, there are thousands of prisoners in England and Wales that are not on the national DNA database. The Home Office said the vast majority of inmates were on the database but it did not know the exact number. Among the most serious offenders are those serving long sentences that began before 2002 and they are the most likely not to be on the DNA database.
There is also another counter-argument. As Adam Rutherford wrote yesterday, the idea that the more profiles on the database, the greater likelihood of a ‘cold hit’, doesn’t stand-up to scrutiny:
Analysis in 2006 by GeneWatch UK, which monitors the application of genetic technology for public interest and human rights, showed that the rate of convictions using the DNA database actually fell after the introduction of retention of records at arrest (rather than charge) in 2004. Labour has stated that 23 previously arrested, but not convicted, people were convicted for rape, murder or manslaughter last year based on database entries. The election fact-checker service by the Times gives this a pork-pie rating of four out of five. The data is complex and insufficient.
The Sally Anne Bowman case does not justify the retention of innocent DNA profiles. Instead it reaffirms that DNA is a useful tool for tracking known criminals and sex offenders. The Government’s use of her case to justify their illiberal and illegal policy is misleading, exploitative and wrong.
By Dylan Sharpe
Yesterday I wrote about Home Secretary Alan Johnson's threat to remove the fixed retention time for innocent DNA profiles of 6 years from the Crime and Security Bill if the Tories and Lib Dems did not support the DNA provisions in the bill.
Today a press release has dropped into my inbox from the Home Office, proudly proclaiming that the Crime and Security Bill has just received Royal Assent, with the following provision:
- a new DNA retention regime to hold the DNA profiles of convicted offenders indefinitely and keep the DNA profiles of those who are arrested but not convicted of a recordable offence for a fixed amount of time
It was reported by Kable overnight that Chris Grayling, Shadow Home Secretary, had withdrawn his opposition to the bill (the Conservatives had previously been pushing for a maximum retention of 3 years - similar to the Scottish model) with the following comments:
"We will not seek to block this bill because the indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA is unacceptable and has been ruled illegal," said Grayling.
"DNA data provides a useful tool for solving crimes. A Conservative government will legislate in the first session in order to make sure that our DNA database will only include permanent records of people who are guilty, instead of those who are innocent, and to go further than the government to help fight crime."
Some are reporting this as a Tory flip-flop, but there is clearly motive behind this move. As I wrote in recent weeks, the ramping-up of the debate over the DNA database had drawn in Tony Blair and become one of Labour's key 'wedge issues' with the Conservatives.
However for those who aren't aware of the dangers of indefinite innocent DNA retention (and the fact it is illegal), the unedifying site of the victims' families whose killers were caught using DNA being wheeled out to make the Tories look soft on crime, may actually have had an effect.
It won't be the end of the haggles over the DNA database (Big Brother Watch intends to make sure of that - more to come later) but it is disappointing that this bill has now become law.
By Dylan Sharpe
Yesterday I wrote a short blogpost about how the coming election will define privacy and freedom in Britain for generations. From today we have started our 'GE2010 blog'.
Whenever you see the image on the right on a blogpost, it has been added to our General Election 2010 blog - our comment on the thrills and spills of the coming contest - now available here.
Today we have our first dividing lines drawn between the government and opposition - this time on the DNA database.
As the wash-up period gets underway in Parliament (for further information on wash-up and its implications for democracy do read this superb article by Martin Bell) the bills currently going through the house are horse-traded to get the statute books clean before the new government is returned.
One such bill is the Crime and Security Bill, which proposes limiting the retention of DNA profiles to six years, if the person is later found innocent. Of course, Big Brother Watch would prefer to see all innocent people removed from the DNA database immediately, but we nevertheless support the opposition parties desire to see the period limited to three years, as it is in Scotland.
Now the Guardian reports:
The home secretary today accused the Tories of being "soft" on crime and threatened to throw the reforms out of the crime and security bill, should the Conservatives pursue their efforts to limit retention to three years.
He said he would pull all provisions from the amendment bill today if the Tories refuse to sign up to the government's plans – including a six-year retention limit – in full. The bill is destined for this afternoon's wash-up session to complete the government's legislative programme ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the election.
Johnson told Sky News: "This is a basic example of how they [the Tories] talk tough on crime but act soft."
This is disgraceful politicking by the Home Secretary who is, in essence, holding the profiles of one million innocent people to ransom for his own perceived electoral advantage.
Alongside the rulings on section 44 - Stop and Search and, as we revealed last month, the I v Finland judgement on medical data security, the UK is now in breach of at least three major European Court rulings.
Alan Johnson may think it looks weak to support the law-abiding citizen who has never committed any crime and who simply wants their privacy, but we hope the public think differently.
By Dylan Sharpe
Normally we wouldn't comment on the much heralded return of Tony Blair to British politics, but his speech contained a passage that requires we take a second look. Talking about the DNA database, the former PM said:
"This employs the advanced technology of DNA tracking and matching, to provide incontrovertible evidence of guilt or innocence. Its use so far has resulted in extraordinary breakthroughs. Old crimes, whose victims or their families never received justice, can be solved and perpetrators brought to book. Innocent people have been freed.
"As the database builds up, it becomes an invaluable crime fighting tool. In time, it will also be a fierce deterrent, since criminals particularly murderers, rapists and those who commit violent assault, will know they run a big risk of detection. It is an absolutely sensible use of modern technology. It can actually help prevent abuses of civil liberties.
There are three issues here. The first is his use of 'incontrovertible evidence' as if DNA evidence had never made any errors. Yet, time and time and time again, we have seen that DNA has and continues to make mistakes.
The second issue is that the former Prime Minister implies that those opposed to an expansion of the DNA database are somehow letting 'murderers, rapists and those who commit violent assault' get away with their crimes. Yet, as a staunch opponent of the retention of DNA from those who are later proven innocent, I can say without any doubt that I am not opposed to DNA being collected from those three groups of ne'er do wells.
Finally - and the real ace in the pack - is that final line: the idea that by handing over our DNA to the state we can 'actually help prevent abuses of civil liberties'. I'd love to know how Tony justifies that one. In fact, I'd bet a whole heap that he only included that final line to show that he had considered personal liberty.
Sir Alec Jeffreys, the man who invented DNA profiling, said yesterday that it wouldn't be long before police were able to analyse DNA found at a crime scene to draw up an identikit picture of the suspect, detailing physical characteristics such as facial features
Explain how that helps civil liberties, Tony. Indeed, it might be best to leave Sir Alec - a man who knows the potential of DNA better than anyone on the planet - to have the final line as a rebuttal to Blair's return. As The Herald reports:
Mr Jeffreys reiterated his belief that Scotland’s model was right and proper. He said: “I’ve certainly always felt that you’ve got it right and we’ve got it seriously wrong.” He said the database in the rest of the UK undermined the legal tenet of presumed innocence because it contained the details of one million innocent people who felt themselves to be branded “future criminals”.
By Dylan Sharpe
A man in Yokohama was wrongly served with an arrest warrant and had his home searched after police mixed up his DNA records with someone else's: he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Yokohama in October 2007, and he wrongly became the subject of a warrant for an unrelated theft which took place two years later because a DNA sample from the hit-and-run was wrongly filed in the police database.
Luckily for him, they worked out the mistake. Such mistakes are not uncommon.
UPDATE: Explanation from the relevant police department: human error.
By Alex Deane
Big Brother Watch has always been opposed to the retention of the DNA of innocent people on the National Database; click here to see the full list of blogposts we have written on the issue.
The past 24 hours have seen some interesting developments on this topic, all of which add fuel to the argument that anyone who has their DNA taken and is later found to be innocent should be entitled to expect, rather than have to request its removal from the database.
The first story, from the Daily Mail, reveals that just 0.3% of solved crimes are due to the DNA database.
The research shows that - despite the massive expansion in the Government database - only 3,666 crimes are detected every year with links to an existing DNA profile.
That is one in every 1,300 of the 4.9million crimes carried out, and just one in 350, or 0.3 per cent, of the 1.3million crimes solved by police, according to the home affairs select committee.
This research may have influenced the House of Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee, who yesterday said the following about the Government's current policy on DNA
"The current situation of indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of those arrested but not convicted is impossible to defend in light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and unacceptable in principle," the committee says in a report published on 8 March 2010.
Crucially, in their recommendations the Committee stated that "DNA alone is unlikely to result in a conviction for crime." This is particularly significant given the Prime Minister's speech last week, in which he accused opponents of retaining innocent DNA of 'helping rapists'.
Finally, from the Metro this morning, comes the news that the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust are struggling for organ and blood donations because people fear that their DNA profile will be added to the database.
All three stories are yet further evidence of why the Government's present policy on DNA retention is completely wrong. DNA is rarely crucial in solving crimes. The current length of time we retain profiles is anti-liberty and breaking the ECHR judgement. And the database is causing real and tangible damage to the Afro-Caribbean community because of its prejudice against young black males.
By Dylan Sharpe
Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday show that detectives are ordering weekly searches of the DNA database for people with no immediate connection to any crime.
The searches are used when crime scene DNA samples produce no direct match on the system.
Investigators then trawl millions of other records looking for a partial match, which might indicate that the suspect is related to an innocent person on the system.
More to the point, what happens - as the godfather of DNA profiling Sir Alec Jeffreys said - if “there is some glitch in the
database that made a false match to my DNA profile and that brings me
into the frame of a criminal investigation which has very serious
Which is probably why Lee Wyatt from Dereham (right), who was arrested and charged with assault but cleared of any wrongdoing in his local court, has taken to walking around the town with a sandwich board to try and get his DNA back from Norfolk Constabulary.
We wish Lee the best of luck but we're not holding our breath...
By Dylan Sharpe
Washington Monthly has used the notable "cold hit" case of John Puckett as a starting point for a remarkably significant, researched, extended piece on the use of DNA in court cases. An extract to show the quality:
Typically, law enforcement and prosecutors rely on FBI estimates for the rarity of a given DNA profile—a figure can be as remote as one in many trillions when investigators have all thirteen markers to work with. In Puckett’s case, where there were only five and a half markers available, the San Francisco crime lab put the figure at one in 1.1 million—still remote enough to erase any reasonable doubt of his guilt. The problem is that, according to most scientists, this statistic is only relevant when DNA material is used to link a crime directly to a suspect identified through eyewitness testimony or other evidence. In cases where a suspect is found by searching through large databases, the chances of accidentally hitting on the wrong person are orders of magnitude higher.
The reasons for this aren’t difficult to grasp: consider what happens when you take a DNA profile that has a rarity of one in a million and run it through a database that contains a million people; chances are you’ll get a coincidental match. Given this fact, the two leading scientific bodies that have studied the issue—the National Research Council and the FBI’s DNA advisory board—have recommended that law enforcement and prosecutors calculate the probability of a coincidental match differently in cold-hit cases. In particular, they recommend multiplying the FBI’s rarity statistic by the number of profiles in the database, to arrive at a figure known as the Database Match Probability. When this formula is applied to Puckett’s case (where a profile with a rarity of one in 1.1 million was run through a database of 338,000 offenders) the chances of a coincidental match climb to one in three.
Such coincidental matches are more than a theoretical possibility, as Chicago police can attest. In 2004, detectives investigating a string of robberies on the city’s North Side found some skin cells that the culprit had left behind at one crime scene, which contained six DNA markers. When they ran this profile against Illinois’s offender database, they found it matched a woman named Diane Myers. There was just one problem: when the burglaries in question were committed, Myers was already in jail, serving time on drug charges.
Indeed, the little information that has come to light about the actual rate of coincidental matches in offender databases suggests the chances of hitting on the wrong person may be even higher than the Database Match Probability suggests. In 2005... an Arizona state employee named Kathryn Troyer had run a series of tests on the state’s DNA database, which at the time included 65,000 profiles, and found multiple people with nine or more identical markers. If you believe the FBI’s rarity statistics, this was all but impossible—the chances of any two people in the general population sharing that many markers was supposed to be about one in 750 million, while the Database Match Probability for a nine-marker match in a system the size of Arizona’s is roughly one in 11,000.
It's technical stuff admittedly, but that's just what convicts people for things they may not have done. If you're interested in this subject, the article is really a "must read".
The piece is also covered by the security consultant blogging as Mass
Private I, who highlights the attempts of law enforcement to suppress
information about flaws in statistics rather than share it as they
should - which is significant, and terrible, as juries thinking the
numbers mean something very different to the truth can wind up
convicting the defendant.
This finds support in another useful piece about the Washington Monthly essay over at Rants of a Public Defender; after pointing out the significant shortcomings of legal defence teams in relation to DNA evidence, she rightly concludes,
A selection of related posts - the DNA myth, wrongful arrest due to DNA, the "return my DNA" campaign, DNA madness, less than 1% of crimes solved with DNA, removal of samples from innocent people is random, DNA / PNC, DNA testing and employability, arrests just to get us on the database, and an extended and updated piece from me on Con Home.
They don't want us poking around too much and investigating the truth of their scientific claims. They don't want to do the hard work to get at the right results; they just want the quick, dirty, and easy answers, evidently without concern for whether those answers are the right ones. Once again, when science and law enforcement come together, scientific integrity inevitably takes the back seat...
We have got to fight against the criminal justice system's reluctance to get at the best evidence. We have got to break the hold that DNA evidence has over us. Otherwise, we'll never get to the truth of it.
By Alex Deane
Well, would you cause a fuss if you were the parent of one of the 800 newborn babies in Texas whose blood samples were sent to the U.S. military?
Supposedly, it wasn't for military use, oh no - it was for potential use in a database for law enforcement purposes.
Well, that's OK then.
And, in the winner of the weekly "well isn't that rather the point" award, when asked why the State's government had kept the programme a secret, Carrie Williams, a health department spokeswoman, said
"We don't publicize every agency initiative or contract, and obviously this is a sensitive topic."
By Alex Deane
In the context of the legal world, I've written about the problems with DNA evidence before. Over at the Mail, a sad story about donor-conceived children - about false hopes, technological errors and a DNA database.
Two women recently became the first British children of an anonymous sperm donor to meet face-to-face - or so they thought.
K, who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, and E, from Cambridge here in the UK, had been among the first to register with UK Donor Link, a Government-funded database set up in 2004 - and they were brought together as the "poster children" of a reunification programme run by DNA analysis.
The problem was that the scientists were wrong:
In a terrible and distressing mistake, UKDL brought two entirely unrelated women together and told them they were sisters.
The Mail says that, unsurprisingly,
E and K, who are both 37, are deeply distressed by the development.
E did not want to discuss the revelation but K is so appalled at what she considers the unprofessional and unethical behaviour of UKDL that she is considering suing the organisation.
To summarise - supposedly basic DNA question using existing (not pioneering) technology; high-profile situation, with the provider incentivised to get it right given the publicity - and they still got it wrong.
As the Mail puts it, it's a mistake that "casts new doubt on DNA profiling" per se. And this story breaks alongside the news that researchers intend to build an online DNA database.
By Alex Deane