DNA and individual freedom v crime prevention

 
DNA swab with police evidence bag

Will the government's Protection of Freedoms Act lead to an increase in murders, rapes and other serious crimes? New research from the United States suggests it might.

The legislation, which became law last May, is resulting in many thousands of DNA profiles being removed from the UK's giant DNA database - people arrested but not convicted of a serious offence after three years. Ministers argue that the previous approach, in which DNA samples were kept indefinitely, undermined the freedom of innocent citizens.

Britain pioneered the use of DNA as a crime-fighting tool, introducing the world's first national database in 1985. Today it holds the profiles of more than five million people and is credited with helping solve some 40,000 crimes a year.

The US, Canada, Australia and most European countries have followed the UK's lead, with DNA profiling internationally regarded as the most important breakthrough in modern policing. Until now, though, there has been little scientific research on whether such databases really do reduce offending.

Last month Jennifer Doleac, assistant professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, published a paper entitled The Effects of DNA Databases on Crime, which suggested that size matters: "larger DNA databases reduce crime rates".

The paper estimates that each new profile added to the US DNA database - the Combined DNA Index System, or Codis - resulted in 0.57 fewer serious offences. Uploading a profile costs about $40, which means that in 2010 the database cost the American taxpayer $30.5m but, according to the research paper, saved a whopping $21bn in crime prevention.

Retaining DNA from individuals who are not convicted of an offence is as controversial in the US as it is in the UK. Some American states do keep samples from people arrested but not convicted while others do not. So the University of Virginia study was able to compare the two approaches.

Ms Doleac calculates that if every state kept the profiles of people arrested but not convicted, the US would see a fall of 3.2% in murders, 6.6% in rapes and 5.4% in vehicle thefts.

Sean Hodgson, who wrongly spent 27 years behind bars for murder DNA advances have also resolved miscarriages of justice such as the case of Sean Hodgson

This conclusion flies in the face of current British government policy that does the opposite. In a Commons debate in October 2011, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire challenged the suggestion "that the more people's DNA is on the database, the more effective it is".

He made the point that in 2004/5 there were 2.8 million people on the database and 35,605 detections. In 2009/10 there were 4.8 million profiles but 32,552 detections.

However, it's also true that in 2008/9 there were 79 murder, manslaughter or rape cases in which DNA was matched to individuals who had been arrested but not convicted.

The Labour party argues that profiles of people arrested but not convicted should be kept for six years rather than three. The Association of Police Officers says even that change would lead to an extra 1,000 crime/profile matches a year.

With the murder rate in England and Wales now at its lowest level since Jim Callaghan was prime minister, there are many theories as to why violent crime has seen such a significant fall in recent years. One answer is the DNA database.

It is broadly accepted that there is a balance to be struck between crime prevention and individual freedom. This new research adds a little more evidence to help decide where the balance should lie.

 
Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 87.

    We should and must make sure or contract with the Crown and the PEOPLE (note not MPs) also known as the Common Law of Magna Carta, is retained and kept fully in every detail. Information held by anyone is safe. No consent or no contract no law it is a simple as that. We have the power so we should make sure MPs listen to us on what we want. People are innocent until proved guilty so the law says?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    This apology for a government is simply itching, itching, for an excuse to scrap Freedom of Information requests.

    It'll go like this:

    "Due to the likelihood of DNA information being the subject of FOI requests we have decided to curtail FOI."

    "Meanwhile you don't mind giving us sample? Do you."

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 85.

    When the nazis invaded Denmark, the citizens would not tell them who were the jewish families, so the nazis used hospital records to identify them. This information (the equivalent of modern day DNA evidence) had been given feely to the hospital authorities for purely religious reasons in case a patient needed to see a rabbi.

    Lesson: be wary of any information that a government holds about you

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 84.

    never mind the do gooders and activists, this is a crucial tool in the detection and prevention of crimes, we are weak enough on sentencing burglars and druggies and therefore need to catch them as often as possible because there are not a great number of successes with rehabilitation.... many re-offend and re-offend and sentences should get bigger each time , eventually we would wipe it out.....

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 83.

    79Cariboo

    DNA is a double edged sword. Not only can it prove guilt, it can also prove innocence and the latter is good reason.
    ===
    It can also be used to frame the innocent, and to blackmail the innocent too. Like all advances in science, it favours neither the good nor the bad. Let's not forget the law of unintended consequences.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    As always it comes down to trust and from bitter past experience anybody with half a brain does not trust the politicians, police force, health authories or insurance companies, simply because they have all got it WRONG OR LOST OUR DATA SOME MANY TIMES IN THE PAST !!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 81.

    All immigrants legal or otherwise should have there DNA taken at the Point of arrival and it held on a database indefinitely.
    This will protect us all from Criminals seeking easy pickings.
    Any expelled person would upon returning be identified quite quickly and expelled again.
    This is one area where imho a DNA data base would work

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    75. Perpetual Sigh
    52 MINUTES AGO

    You are wrong about DNA collection not having prevented a crime, any person convicted on DNA evidence and jailed is prevented for a period of time from re-offending... personally I've no objection to a National DNA database. Okay so it could result in my being detained , but if I've innocently had a contact it should be provable. retain all samples.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 79.

    DNA is a double edged sword. Not only can it prove guilt, it can also prove innocence and the latter is good reason.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 78.

    Your DNA at a crime scene does not mean you are guilty. Your DNA, hair, saliva may have been there for days or transferred from someone else that you brushed up against in a crowd, but when the police find it, i think you will be in big trouble because it will then be up to you to prove your innocence.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 77.

    This is not about crime. It is about safety, protecting the innocent and deterring those who would commit offences. More crime prevention but also track down missing parents, those that walk away from their responsibilities. There is nothing to fear from a database such as this UNLESS your DNA can be cloned and planted in locations. I've been on the database voluntarily for over 10 years..........

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 76.

    Why not just go the whole way and micro-chip everyone at birth, fit cameras in every room in your house and fit every car with with a satellite tracker. That way everyone will be safe. Privacy- who wants or needs it?

    Me that's who. Why should i be on a criminal database when i have not committed a crime. This is Guilty until proven innocent and will put innocent people in jail.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 75.

    74. spam spam spam spam - your argument, if you can even call it that, is frankly chilling. So because we can't prove we'll never commit a crime, therefore the state should presume guilt? Never mind the fact that DNA collection has never prevented a single crime, and never will do. It's an ineffective, costly, draconian database that should be scrapped immediately.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 74.

    undermined the freedom of innocent citizens.

    That is not correct, it is citizens who have caused good reason to take DNA, just because they have not been found guilty does not mean they are innocent.

    How is a DNA database going to undermine anyone, unless they have plans for criminal activity

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 73.

    @70.Alan Critchley

    even the literate can be severely naive.

    solve so many crimes: which ones don't already have systems in place?

    illegal immigrants: Labour open door policy is over, Border Agency needs fixing, so how will DNA highlight? Every non-white person scanned at the check-outs?

    Solve rapes: ..not falling for the bait here...

    what are police and video cameras for?

    WE are mad? or ....

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 72.

    It's quite simple to anyone with a brain---- if Lib/Lab want something, then if you want sense you go the opposite direction. Keep DNA for 70yrs and make sure the wrongdoers are caught.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    This might be a good thing were it not for the absolute faith in DNA testing as a forensic tool. If I sneeze in a train near someone wearing gloves who goes on to strangle someone I'm toast unless I can absolutely prove I was somewhere else when the crime was comitted. Lazy policing has lead to too many overturned convictions and this just looks like an easy way to get your stats up.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 70.

    I always will contend that everyone should have their DNA on record. Forget about privacy and human rights, it would solve so many crimes, highlight illegal immigrants, solve rapes etc. I believe we're mad, or criminal, not to agree to a mass DNA database.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 69.

    It's already been pointed out here that this can't prevent crime, just help in detection afterwards and so I'd like to question some of the numbers quoted in the article. Paragraph 6, "The paper estimates...", appears to say that at least 57% of the people sampled in the US had not only comitted a serious crime but were about to commit another one - really, who are they sampling, the mafia?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    I have just registered on the Government Gateway to renew my driving licence. They have asked every question imaginable, and it is obvious they are using the information to make fishing expeditions - cross-departmental information exchanges - easier for them. They are already much too demanding of information and it will make it much too easy for them to control us.

 

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