Monday, June 30, 2008

PM's claims about DNA database false

Speaking of fearmongering, GeneWatch UK have looked into Gordon Brown's recent claim that 114 murderers would have walked free if innocent people's DNA was not recorded on the national DNA database. They concluded, not surprisingly, that:

1. The Prime Minister’s claim is false;
2. Ministers are well aware that this claim is false;
3. This figure is misleading to members of the public who are concerned about the
implications of retaining innocent people’s records indefinitely on the National
DNA Database...

It is not possible – let alone probable - that 114 murderers would have walked away if
DNA profiles from innocent people were not kept on the NDNAD, because the number of
convictions is always considerably less than the number of DNA matches. In addition,
suspects in murder cases are often identified by means other than a ‘cold hit’ on the
Database: claiming that they would “walk away” if they did not have a record on the
Database is therefore highly misleading. Since the law changed, the Government has
provided no examples of murders that have been solved as a result of retaining the DNA
of innocent people beyond the period necessary to investigate whether they have
committed a past offence...

The British Academy of Forensic Sciences has noted that “in reality there are a number
of disadvantages” with profiling everyone at birth, which it lists as24:
• The scale of the operation would be disproportionate, since only a minority commit
• It would increase anxieties about ‘big brother’, already evoked by widespread CCTV
coverage and proposed biometric identity cards
• It might be seen to imply that we are all guilty until proven innocent
• There have, and will be, mistakes, chance matches and false matches with close
relatives, made even more likely where profiles are incomplete
• Links will be established all the time between the scene and innocent individuals,
leading to false inferences
• It would render every member of the population vulnerable to attack, by for example
having their DNA planted at a crime scene
• In future it is possible that profiles could also reveal confidential information about the
health of an individual
• It would be impossible to control for the large numbers of people who enter and leave
the country, both legally and illegally...

The NDNAD is a useful tool in criminal investigations, but the permanent retention on it
of everyone who has been arrested for a recordable offence raises important concerns
about privacy and rights, including:
· the potential threat to ‘genetic privacy’ if information is revealed about health or
family relationships, not just identity;
· the creation of a permanent ‘list of suspects’ that could be misused by governments
or others;
· the potential for unauthorised access, abuses and/or misuses and mistakes:
including the tracking of individuals and their relatives, and the implications of false
· the exacerbation of discrimination in the criminal justice system.
GeneWatch UK is not opposed to the existence of the DNA Database, or the use of DNA
in criminal investigations, but has questioned the benefits of its rapid expansion.

Overall, analysis of Home Office data shows that collecting more DNA from crime
scenes has made a significant difference to the number of crimes detected using DNA,
but keeping DNA from increasing numbers of individuals has not...

Examination of the evidence shows that:
· The figures cited by the Prime Minister refer to an estimate of DNA matches, not
solved crimes;
· The reported matches are not actual matches obtained with individuals’ profiles
retained on the NDNAD following acquittal or charges being dropped, but are an
estimate based on a number of unverifiable assumptions;
· DNA matches are not successful prosecutions and many matches occur with the
DNA of individuals who are not the perpetrator of the crime, including victims and
passers-by, or are false matches;
· The retention of DNA samples has not contributed to the detection and prosecution
of serious crime – only the retention of computerised DNA profiles on the NDNAD is
necessary to obtain a match. The DNA samples are stored by the commercial
laboratories which analyse them for an annual fee, and raise additional privacy
concerns because they contain unlimited genetic information.
· Misinformation about the impact of DNA retention on solved crimes is likely to
mislead the public about the recent massive expansion of the National DNA
Database. Retaining innocent individuals’ DNA is costly but has delivered no
detectable improvement in solving crimes: this contrasts with the improved collection
and analysis of crime scene DNA.

GeneWatch UK concludes that:

1.The Prime Minister’s claim that “in all probability” 114 murderers would have
walked away had innocent people’s records not been retained on the National
DNA Database is false.
2. Ministers are well aware that this claim is false;
3. This figure is seriously misleading to members of the public who are concerned
about the implications of retaining innocent people’s records indefinitely on the
National DNA Database.

Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the link. Sorry about the formating.

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