DNA pioneer: Innocents should be removed from database

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DNA pioneer: Innocents should be removed from database

Rebecca Thomson

A leading DNA scientist whose work led to the creation of the DNA database has called for innocent people to be removed from it.

Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of genetic fingerprinting, says forcing innocent people to remain on the database will erode public support for the project.

Currently anyone who is arrested is added to the database, whether or not they go on to be convicted. It now has 5 million people on it.

Jeffreys said he is concerned about what appears to be hundreds of thousands of innocent people swelling the database beyond its proper size.

He told The Guardian, "My view is very clear that if you have been convicted of a crime then you owe it to society to be retained on that database for catching in the future should you reoffend. But the retention of entirely innocent people is a whole different issue. There is a sort of presumption here that if they have not committed any crime now, then they will in the future."

A recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights said that the government's policy of retaining the genetic details of innocent people broke their right to privacy. There are reports that the government's response to this ruling will be to remove the profiles of people without convictions, but to keep their DNA on the database. Jeffreys said these reports left him "almost speechless".

It was Jeffrey's work in the 1980s that led to the use of genetic fingerprinting in police investigations, and enabled the founding of the DNA database.

The Home Office has said that keeping genetic details of everyone arrested helps solve crimes, but Jeffreys said putting a few hundred thousand random people onto the database would have the same effect. He added, "There are serious issues of discrimination and stigmatisation of branches of society that are over-represented on the database."


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