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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Compulsory national DNA database rejected by UK Government

22 February, 2008
After fevered debate in the House of Commons, pubs and blog sites, the national DNA database proposal has been rejected by the government as being unpractical. The controversial debate involves strong opinions from both sides but the compromise reached retains a system that is at least some help in using DNA as an aid to conviction.
Opponents criticised the system as an infringement of public liberties and an opportunity for future governments to use the information for commercial purposes. Advocates of the system however, say that a compulsory database would significantly improve conviction rates and indeed protect the innocent, thus supporting the rule of law.

Without the compulsory database, we're left with a system where anyone arrested for any offence, regardless of whether they are convicted or not, will have a DNA sample taken which will be retained. This is how some recent high profile cases were solved and the system will doubtless lead to other convictions in the future but it isn't fool proof and DNA in itself isn't enough to form a firm conviction, it needs to be part of a file of compelling evidence. The risk of a national database comes from the fear of DNA being used in isolation to form a conviction. It may not be the case now, opponents argue, but it may be in the future.

Meanwhile, the existing database continues to grow and remains the large such repository of DNA data in the world. This gives the UK arguably the best criminal identification mechanism since fingerprint records started to be kept, or maybe that accolade should go to biometric databases!

The parallels can't be ignored and the decision of the government this week could be an omen for the future of biometric databases. Fingerprints, DNA and facial co-ordinates are all distinguishing features that make us all unique. Taking fingerprints has been around since Scotland Yard first started using them in 1901 and has never been compulsory for the general population in the UK. A national DNA database has just been rejected and the biometric database is still under debate.

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