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Arrest for the purpose of DNA sampling

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

A report published today by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) in the United Kingdom, which advises the government in that jurisdiction in relation to genetic issues, contains a claim that police officers deliberately arrest people in order to get DNA samples from them to add to the DNA database. The claim, put forward by an unnamed retired police superintendent, is contained in a report entitled “Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?”.

Obviously, it is difficult to investigate the truth of the claim that persons are being arrested solely for the purpose of obtaining DNA samples where they would not be arrested in other circumstances, and indeed, such a claim has been denied by the Association of Chief Police Officers. However, the Chairman of the HGC, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, has admitted that there is some evidence to substantiate the allegation. Professor Montgomery has also suggested that the DNA database in the UK has suffered from “function creep” since its introduction in 1995, evolving from a database of offenders into a database of suspects. Liberty‘s director of policy Isabella Sankey has also observed the extent of the use currently being made of DNA databases and the manner in which policing decisions can be influenced:

Not only are we stockpiling the most sensitive information of innocents who have never been charged, let alone convicted, we are also creating a perverse incentive for officers to arrest the innocent.

The UK DNA database is the largest of its kind in the world and this is not the first time that it has been the subject of controversy and debate, although Professor Montgomery suggests that there has not been enough public or parliamentary debate on the issue.

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