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Labour's Scaremongering Sideshow Lets the Coalition Off the Hook

Posted: 08/11/11 09:34

The Protection of Freedoms Bill does a great deal to begin the move away from the authoritarian excesses of recent years. It does not, however, represent the end of indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA.

As the House of Lords begins its main scrutiny of the Bill, they have the opportunity to ensure the Coalition is held to account on its decision to abandon the pledge in the Coalition Agreement to "adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database."

However, Labour continue to call for a far more Orwellian system of retention of innocent people's DNA - an approach which risks moving the debate away from a protection of civil liberties and onto which approach is the lesser of two evils.

As the Bill currently stands, there is a real risk of back-door indefinite retention of innocent people's DNA material - without judicial oversight - through the broad exemptions that have been included. It does not offer the same protections as the Scottish system, despite the coalition agreement's commitment to introduce the Scottish system.

This cannot be a satisfactory position for a government committed to protecting civil liberties.

Firstly, the bill detracts from the Scottish Model with regard to the treatment of those arrested and never charged. In Scotland, if an individual is not charged, their biometric data is not retained. Under the Bill as it stands, those never charged may still see their DNA profile stored under 'prescribed circumstances' with the consent of the Biometrics Commissioner.

In determining what prescribed circumstances would be, the Bill provides for any circumstances to be prescribed by Order and offers very little guidance on what they would be.

Of equal concern is the ability to retain biometric data based upon "national security determinations", initially for two years, but with the potential for indefinite renewal. This catch-all provision is grossly excessive and on the experience of how anti-terrorism legislation has been applied it is far from certain it will be limited to cases of a credible threat to national security.

In Scotland the process of retention overseen by the courts, with sheriffs hearing the authorities' case to retain a DNA sample and information for a further 2 years after the initial period expires. Under the Protection of Freedoms Bill the decision is not a judicial one. Chief officers will make the decision to retain, overseen by the Biometrics Commissioner - who will be appointed by the home secretary.

Before the election, then Shadow Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government "has been obsessed with growing the DNA database for the sake of it regardless of guilt or innocence."

He asked "just how many more DNA profiles of the innocent have to be added before the Government is prepared to act?"

I am sure several Peers will be keen to ask the Government the same question today.

 

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