Goverment backtracks on Big Brother laws

The government is to reassess its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and how and when to keep DNA profiles on the national DNA database.

The government is to reassess its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and how and when to keep DNA profiles on the national DNA database.

It will also delete immediately the DNA records of all subjects under 10 - the UK threshold for legal liability.

The review comes less than two weeks after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK's DNA data retention policy breached human rights.

It also follows local councils' controversial use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, introduced to fight terrorism and serious organised crime, to track and trace litterbugs and other minor lawbreakers.

Home secretary Jacqui Smith announced the consultation in a speech to Intellect, the IT industry trade association this morning.

She said the consultation on the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Actwill examine:

• A revision of the codes of practice that come under RIPA

• Which public authorities can use RIPA powers

• How those powers are authorised, and who authorises their use.

It will also ask for proposed changes to RIPA powers to bring them in line with tests of safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense.

Speaking about privacy rights in light of changing and expanding technology, Smith said the government had to think carefully about how long to retain DNA evidence. She said the government will consult on retention arrangements for DNA samples in a forensics white paper next year.

The proposals include

• Retaining DNA evidence for different periods depending on the seriousness of the offence and possibly the age and risk of the individual

•Ensuring police can take retrospective samples for a longer period after conviction and from those convicted overseas.

Smith said, "There are clearly cases where [RIPA] powers should not be used. I don't want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy."

She said public confidence was needed for the DNA database to work properly. "The changes we will set out in the white paper will deliver a more proportionate, fair and common sense approach," she said.

"The public is our best defence against crime and terrorism. But I know people will not thank us if the systems we design to protect them are too intrusive."

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