British National DNA database holds data on a million minors
The UK maintains the world's largest forensic DNA database. The DNA database holds data on 4.4 million people, which corresponds to 7 per cent of the entire population. The Daily Telegraph reports that since the database was begun, the DNA of more than a million minors has been recorded.
The British National DNA database, in existence since 1995, contains more than 70 per cent of all the DNA profiles recorded in all of the national databases of the EU. The Telegraph, claiming its story is based on official figures, says that since then 1.07 million DNA profiles of minors have been added. These are said to have included 100,000 children who were under the age of 13 when their DNA was recorded, and more than 500,000 who were between 13 and 15 years old. Over the last three years, just under 50,000 children under the age of 13 and approximately 200,000 teenagers between 13 and 15, were recorded. The Telegraph says that until now, much lower figures have been assumed, "as Government figures only estimate the number of children currently on the database." At present, that would be approximately 344,000 persons under the age of 18.
This is politically explosive, because minors, for whom a supposition of innocence is most particularly appropriate, are being recorded by the police. The police have had the power since 2004 to create a DNA profile of all persons suspected of a criminal act and store it for an unlimited time – even if a court finds the person innocent or releases them for lack of evidence. This means that, in theory, the DNA records of innocent 12-year-olds may be held for life on the same database as that of sentenced criminals and suspects. Opposition politicians are now accusing the government of preying on children "to make the world's biggest DNA database by stealth". Besides lack of regard for the innocent, criticism is also directed at the retention on record of minors who have only committed minor offences "when large numbers of adults convicted of serious crimes before DNA began to be collected are not on the database".
A spokeswoman for the GeneWatch civil-rights group warned that the DNA of innocent people could be used "to track them or their relatives or to reveal private genetic information". Two years ago, GeneWatch complained that the rate of crime detection was not rising in step with the growth of the database.
Notwithstanding this, according to the Telegraph, a senior scientist at the state-owned Forensic Science Services recently announced that by 2012 the database would probably double in size – and would contain DNA data for one-sixth of the adult population. The database is currently growing at the rate of 15,000 profiles a week. According to the Telegraph, there are 730,000 people represented on the database who have never been charged with any offence. However, they may soon have to be removed because British lawyers have brought the case of two men from Sheffield, whose DNA is on the register, before the European European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They say their clients' rights have been breached, because they have never been convicted of a crime.