THE BLOG
25/10/2011 07:21 BST | Updated 25/12/2011 05:12 GMT

DNA Data - a Political Party's Nightmare

The coalition government are under increasing pressure from both the Labour party and the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) over its Protection of Freedoms Bill. The Bill, composed by Home Secretary Theresa May, proposes that whilst all convicted criminals' DNA will remain on the national database, the genetic material of those people who have been charged with, but not convicted of, crimes will be kept for a spell of between three and five years.

Labour wants the proposed changes to be rejected altogether. They say that the DNA data should be kept indefinitely regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime, as is currently the case. This may seem harsh, but Home Office statistics show that these people - charged but not convicted - often go on to commit crimes in the future. Governmental statistics which were, according to Labour, deliberately suppressed from the public by the Home Secretary, suggest that, if the plans go ahead, 23,000 criminals a year, including 6,000 guilty of serious crimes, such as rape and murder, would be absent from the database, hampering police efforts to solve and fight crime.

Conversely, the JCHR, in their review of the Bill, have stated that the government needs to further legitimise the retention of this DNA for any such a period. While the committee applauds the intentions of the bill, it has raised concerns that it "may not go far enough" in attempting to satisfy the individuals' rights to privacy, thereby not adhering to basic human rights.

This is the type of debate where it is impossible to discern right from wrong. From Labour's perspective, how can the government possibly legitimise this bill when solid evidence shows that crimes will be harder to solve? So, they should keep the DNA. But then this is inconsistent - these 23,000 criminals would surely commit just a small fraction of the 10 million crimes committed in the UK in 2010. So why not keep the DNA of all potential criminals - i.e. everyone - and create a full DNA database. Think of how many crimes could be solved then. They still wouldn't be stopped altogether, though, so why not introduce more CCTV? And to stop crimes at home, why not introduce surveillance in private, as well as public, areas? The truth is, this logic has to stop somewhere, and it's hard to define where. The prospect of a 1984, Big Brother-run state shows that crime prevention is not all important - privacy should be valued also.

With that in mind, let's consider the JCHR proposal. In technical terms there is no difference between you, me and a person who has not been charged of a crime. Therefore, it is surely incorrect to retain their DNA, thereby holding them as suspect to future crimes and infringing on their freedom. Statistics show that they many will go on to commit crimes but, in the name of fairness and regularity, we must concede that others are just as likely to commit crimes. If our DNA is kept, then why should theirs? And what about people who have been convicted but then acquitted of crimes? Surely their DNA should be deleted from record as well. Further, should the freedom of a reformed criminal still be kept? Shouldn't they, at some point in time, regain their rights to privacy and right to freedom? Go too far with this, and the result is anarchy and a stretched police force. As with crime prevention, freedom cannot be an outright priority.

And so here is the coalition government. Stuck between Labour and the JCHR; more broadly, stuck between security and freedom; more dramatically, stuck between Orwellian 1984 and lawless anarchy. There are three main problems in this debate - three reasons why no one should envy government in making this decision: firstly, as has been demonstrated, freedom and security feed off one another; secondly, because it is necessary to create a consistent rule, but very difficult to do so; and, thirdly, because it's impossible to please everyone, and impossible to fully satisfy anyone. It's a political party's nightmare.