Government's own report calls for removal of innocents' data from DNA database

The Human Genetics Commission has published a report that calls for radical changes to the national DNA database (NDNAD), including the transfer of control away from the government, and the erasure of records relating to individuals who have not been convicted of any crime. The basic findings are unsurprising, and include:

  • provision of more public information about NDNAD;
  • the need for independent and transparent oversight (a ‘DNA Commissioner’);
  • a review of the arguments for the retention of DNA samples;
  • a review of the collection and retention of volunteer samples;
  • consideration of the justification for retaining samples for long periods;
  • the risk of ethnic discrimination arising from use of the system.

These are highly valid points, and the report recognises that NDNAD has the potential to solve serious crimes, but I was disappointed that the discussion didn’t move on to scrutiny and validity of forensic processes around the gathering and use of DNA evidence. The existence of a DNA record or a derived profile would worry me, but not so much as failings in the processes used to gather that data or present it in a court of law. Since DNA evidence is treated as the ‘gold standard’ in forensics, we need to maintain absolute integrity in its usage – otherwise we risk an environment where we receive regular knocks on the door from police investigating crimes committed by distant relatives, but DNA evidence is inadmissible in court.