In a big win for the civil liberties of innocent people charged with a crime, but never proven guilty, the court in Strasbourg recently ruled 857,000 DNA profiles must be destroyed, and not kept in a database, for future surveillance.

The fingerprints and DNA samples of more than 857,000 innocent citizens who have been arrested or charged but never convicted of a criminal offence now face deletion from the national DNA database after a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights in Strasbourg.

In one of their most strongly worded judgments in recent years, the unanimous ruling from the 17 judges, including a British judge, Nicolas Bratza, condemned the “blanket and indiscriminate” nature of the powers given to the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to retain the DNA samples and fingerprints of suspects who have been released or cleared.

The judges were highly critical of the fact that the DNA samples could be retained without time limit and regardless of the seriousness of the offence, or the age of the suspect.

If you capture DNA profiles in order to keep them forever — regardless of guilt or innocence just so you can try to create relationships and watch trends — that is unacceptable in a world where we must always presume solitary innocence over group guilt.

We applaud the court in Strasbourg for protecting the freedoms and the wishes of a free people across the world in a tremendous example of prescience against the unwitting future.

6 Comments

  1. Regardless of intent, keeping DNA profiles seems more interested in capturing the guilty than anything else, and that is just a little too confining for this land of the free / home of the brave

  2. That’s a fine point, Gordon — why keep the DNA of innocent people on file? You keep it because you suspect they might go bad sometime in the future and that isn’t a right pre-judging, yet that is quickly becoming the law in the USA: If you are detained for any reason, your DNA is taken and kept as a marker against you.

  3. Hear Hear !
    In August this year the government said there were 39,095 DNA profiles of 10-18 year olds from England and Wales who were arrested but never cautioned or charged.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7563850.stm
    Never mind the number of innocent adults.
    What the powers that be are going to do however is not yet clear – there is also a worry about having to release serious criminals who are being bought to court because of previously stored DNA.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/3692261/Suspected-rapists-could-go-free-in-DNA-ruling-says-minister.html

  4. Those are some disturbing links, Nicola. I think we’ll pretty quickly be in the international realm of fingerprints/DNA/eye scans all being taken a routine matter by the authorities and stored as a necessary evil in the fight against terrorism. Blood is hard to get, mark, and store — while DNA is a couple of swap wipes and you’re digitized and done in the system.
    Here’s some disturbing news from Ohio — from 2002!:

    Quietly and without fanfare, the state of Ohio for three years has collected DNA profiles from people cleared of crimes. Supporters hail it as an invaluable tool to fight unsolved crimes. Critics see Big Brother intruding on innocent people. The uncommon practice is so unsettling that the Hamilton County coroner refuses to contribute DNA samples to the database.

    http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2002/08/08/loc_database_keeps_dna.html

  5. Sadly I think you are correct and that the “terrorism” card will be played and that will be the route we go.
    The story from Ohio highlights one of the main differences between the USA and us. You have different laws state by state and sometimes county by county. England and Wales are usually the same – Scotland always has always had a different legal system. Now Wales has been devolved it is slowly changing.
    One county could NOT put through a law like that on the quiet in the UK – it would need to go through Parliament.

  6. It’s a big mess over here, Nicola — but the Feds could step in and overrule the states and require DNA from every citizen and the states would not be able to do anything about it. The Feds could also say, “never keep innocent DNA” and the states would have to follow, too — but that will never happen.