Towards proper regulation of the DNA database

Today, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched their report on the regulation of the National DNA Database. The authors emphasised balancing ethical values, such as liberty, autonomy and privacy, against the database’s benefits to law-enforcement. The headlines echo our own submission to the review:

  • Only people convicted of a crime should be permanently recorded, except those charged with serious violent or sexual offences.
  • Police should not be given powers to sample and store DNA, without consent, from people arrested for ‘non-recordable’ offences.
  • Those who volunteer their DNA (e.g. witnesses) should be able to request – without providing a reason – the removal of their DNA.
  • Unless there is a good reason to preserve it, children’s DNA should be removed from the NDNAD on request.
  • Lawyers and juries should be given more help to understand the meaning of DNA evidence.
  • Familial searching should not be practiced unless it is necessary and proportionate.
  • Ethnic inferences should not be part of routine procedure.
  • The NDNAD should have an independent ethics and governance framework.
  • The regulation of all forensic databases, including oversight of research and other access requests, should be given statutory basis.

Concerns were expressed at this morning’s launch event that Nuffield’s recommendations do not go far enough. Terri Dowty (ARCH) argued that children must be given the right to exclude their own DNA from the register, rather than depending on their – not always reliable – guardians and the courts to aid in the removal of their genetic make-up. Helen Wallace (Genewatch) argued, in line with the Human Genetics Commission, against costly preservation of samples once the necessary profiles are extracted.

Despite these concerns, implementing these recommendations would significantly improve the current position. The Home Office is currently evaluating the aged statutory foundation of this database (the PACE Review) and is due to pronounce on the issue in December 2007.