Friday, March 07, 2008

House Points: A DNA database?

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

DNA madness

Sarah Teather called an adjournment debate on Friday about the growth of the national DNA database. The UK now has the largest in the world. It stores 4.5 million profiles - about five per cent. of the population.

It includes profiles of half a million people who have never been convicted, charged or cautioned. It includes the profiles of children under 10 and - most worryingly to Sarah - those of three-quarters of young black men.

Sarah said: "At the moment, 27 per cent. of the entire black population, 42 per cent. of the male black population, 77 per cent. of young black men … are on the database, compared with just 6 per cent. of the white population."

And she quoted research to refute the lazy assumption that this is because black people commit more offences. They do not.

The other day Polly Toynbee said that if everyone goes on the database it will be "fair". It’s a little like dealing with miscarriages of justice by locking us all up,

But there are Liberal Democrats who favour a national database. Andrew George had a letter in the Observer last Sunday. He said legislators should create a non-compulsory service operated by academia and overseen by the judiciary. And he asked "Whose liberty are we protecting? The perpetrators' or the victims‘?"

A voluntary approach sounds very Liberal - perhaps we could finance it with jumble sales? -- but to get the people you really want on the database it will have to be compulsory. Besides, as the law stands, once people have submitted their DNA - say to help with a major investigation -- they can never revoke consent.

And think what a compulsory database will mean. Parents cooing over their newborn baby will be asked: "Do you mind if we take a sample now? Just in case he grows up to be a rapist of murderer, of course."

Perhaps the real problem is the way we see society as divided between perpetrators and victims. The more stringent the measures government brings in, the less secure we feel as a result.

We should remember that we are all citizens and that government exists to serve the people, not the other way round.

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