Monday, September 10, 2007

We owe it to the victims - DNA Databases

reposted from Guardian

James Randerson

We owe it to the victims

The DNA database could make it impossible to get away with serious crime in this country. It's an opportunity we shouldn't pass by.

September 6, 2007 11:31 AM | Printable version

Thirty-seven murders, 16 attempted murders, 90 rapes.

If you do not believe that every UK resident and visitor to our shores should have their DNA profile stored on the UK's police National DNA Database these are the figures you have to argue against. These are the numbers of victims and families of victims you have to look in the eye and say: "An 'innocent' individual's freedom not to be on the database is worth more than the closure you got from seeing your child's killer put away for life."

The figures above are just the most serious of the more than 3,000 that have been solved since 2003 using a match on the DNA database to people who were arrested by the police but never charged, let alone convicted. All of these 3,000-plus crimes were perpetrated by people who were "innocent" in the eyes of the law, yet their presence on the database gave the police decisive leads - sometimes in stone-cold cases that were years old.

And these convictions are just a taste of what the database might achieve if more people were on it. The most recent figures state that there are 3,865,429 people on the database and 382,746 profiles from crime scenes. The vast majority of profiles on the database are still from convicted criminals with just 139,463 arrestees or volunteers on the database in November 2005. Since May 2001, 182,612 DNA profiles found at crime scenes have been matched with 165,099 separate perpetrators. Some of these crimes may well have been solved eventually using more traditional policing methods, but the DNA database gives the police a powerful hotline to people who do despicable things.

The senior appeal court judge Lord Justice Sedley is right to say that the current arrangements - in which arrestees who are never changed can have their DNA taken by the police (by force if necessary) - are "indefensible". There is no reason why the man arrested at a climate change demonstration but not charged should be treated differently from the woman walking in the park. Both are innocent in the eyes of the law but his DNA profile is added to the database while hers is not. This unfairness has given us a database that is heavily skewed towards men and black people - 37% of black men are on the database compared with 9% of white men.

Of course, the right safeguards must be in place to make sure profiles are only used to catch criminals and that misuse by unscrupulous officials or police is impossible. But from here we can go one of two ways. Either society decides that only convicted criminals - who have given up their rights - are kept on the database. Or we decide collectively that the gains in terms of catching murderers and rapists are important enough for the rest of us to give up the freedom not to be on the database.

We have an opportunity to make it nearly impossible to get away with serious crime in this country. Could you really look into the eyes of those victims' families and say that freedom is worth more?

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