Millions of innocent Britons unhappy with their DNA being stored on the criminal database

Sunday, 13 July 2008

July 2008
The difficulties anyone faces having their DNA removed from the National Criminal Database in comparison to the ease with which half the male population of the black community have found themsleves on it could not be more stark.

Again perputating the racist and wholly inaccurate stereotype about this group that they somehow have a higher propensity to break the law. The silence sourrounding the findings of the Home office report showing that black people have lower offending rates than their white counterpart and are in fact less likely to commit a crime that anyone from the host population has received neglibile column inches compared to the disproportunate attention given to knife and gun crime.

Despite black men being less likely to commit a crime than their white counterparts, the challenge still remains that half of this group now have their DNA on a database originally set up by the government to store the genetic profiles of convicted criminals.

The House of Common's debate called by Sarah Teather MP earlier this year brought to light the fact that '42 per cent. of white people had committed an offence in their lifetime, against 28 per cent. of black people.

As black men are largley not part of the criminal classes, despite the torid headlines which would lead many to believe otherwise, there is a growing movement within the community and in particular among the professional and educated classes to see the DNA of all innocent black men removed off the Database.

This move comes on the tail end of a line of campaigns from a number of unsuspecting groups including children, who have found themselves caught up in the Government's survellance web. COND Children Off National DNA Database campaign, which was launched by Grant Shapps MP on 24th January 2006, are calling for the removal of 27,000 innocent children who have never been charged or cautioned to be removed from the National DNA Database.

The Liberal Democrat's Protect innocent people's campaign Gene Watch who are campainging for a change the law so that people convicted of serious violent or sexual offences should be kept permanently on the Database, while all other DNA profiles should be removed after fixed time periods or when a person is acquitted.

And Black Mental Health UK, who launched their campaign in May 2008 callling to end the crminalising of innocent mental health patients caught in the DNA database web in the process of accessing mental health care.

The erosion of civil liberties and the threat the Database it poses to racial harmony are just some of the concerns that the misue of the Database throws up. The potentential abuse and misue of such sensitive information, questions around security and the current lack of safeguards have all contributed to the wholesale distrust of the Database and how it will be used in the future.

Anyone can have a DNA sample taken from them by the police without being charged or even cautioned. The police have the power to take non-intimate samples without a persons consent.

Police procedure allows two samples are taken on arrest, which can be either from an individuals saliva swabs or hair. The Forensic Science Service analyses one sample and stores the other. This is currently retained on record until the perons reaches 100 years old.

While recent events on the international and national stage mean that Britain does not have the most conducive climate in which to campaign for change, the need to protect the civil liberties that are held so dearly and have come at a price have never been so urgent.

While the Government is advocating that the answer to national security lies in ever more surveillance, monitoring and incarceration, couching new measures in 'tough on terrorism' language, the effects are a system that is criminalising the very citizens that it porports to protect.

The national DNA database now holds over 3 million records, of which over 125,000 belong to people who were neither cautioned nor charged. And amongst them are records from 24,000 people under 18 years of age.

Records indicate 55% of the black men in England and Wales are already on the database far outstripping that of any other section of society. Even more worryingly in London 57% of all innocent DNA is from black people.

The Government's Human Genetics Commission, that advices ministers of state on these issues has recomeneded that DNA samples, which contain the full genetic information about health and other personal characteristics should be destroyed once the DNA profiles, which is the string of numbers held on the Database have been obtained from them.

The Sunday Observer recently reported that The Home Office has given permission for a genetic sutdy to be carried out using the DNA samples on the police database to see if it is possible to predict a suspects ethnic background or skin colour from the samples.

There are now concernes that the DNA taken from thousands of innocent people may be abused and raises the question that that this exercise may in fact be about criminal profiling of a community in the attempt to establish a criminal gene.

A Bill introduced to the House of Commons by Jenny Willott MPlast month calling for the removal of the DNA samples from those who have not been charged or have been acquitted has been welcomed from many quarters.

Hosted by Sarah Teather MP, Black Mental Health UK with the support of Gene Watch and 100 Black Men have planed a public meeting at Westminster, before Parliament's summer recess in a bid to raise awareness about an issue which now touches the lives of every black family in the UK .

Orgnisers believe with the right information and enough public engagement support of the recent Bill and the growing numbers of campaigns will pave the way for change that ensure that DNA of every British citizen who is innocent of any crime, remains protected by the law and the DNA and police records of every innocent person currently on the Database is destroyed.



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