A 'chilling' proposal for a universal DNA database
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
Published: 06 September 2007
A civil liberties storm erupted yesterday after a senior judge called for the genetic details of every person in Britain, and all visitors to the country, to be added to the national DNA database. Critics warned that the "chilling" move would infringe privacy, be hugely impractical and have only a marginal impact on crime.
Downing Street and the Home Office, which have been accused of moving Britain towards a surveillance society, distanced themselves from Lord Justice Sedley's controversial suggestion without entirely ruling it out.
About 4.1 million samples are already on the database, almost 7 per cent
of the population and far more than in any other Western country.
Police can take DNA from anyone arrested, regardless of whether they are eventually charged.
But Sir Stephen Sedley, one of the most experienced Court of Appeal judges, protested that there were "indefensible" anomalies in the system, including disproportionate numbers of people from ethnic minorities on the database.
He said: "We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands
of the police, your DNA is permanently on record and if you haven't, it isn't."
The judge told the BBC that the remedy could be to place every person on the database, as well as the 32 million annual foreign visitors to the country, for
the "absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention".
He acknowledged that the creation of a universal database had very serious implications, but argued that it ultimately led to a fairer system.
Tony Blair said last year that he could see no reason why the DNA of everyone should not ultimately be kept on record.
Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the Government had no plans to introduce
a compulsory database, and stressed the logistical and bureaucratic problems, and the civil liberties concerns, surrounding such a move.