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Human Rights Court Calls UK DNA Database a 'Breach of Rights' 206

Posted by timothy
from the could-have-saved-them-some-time dept.
psmears writes "Describing a judgment that is likely to rein in the scope of the UK DNA database, where at present the DNA of those arrested by the police is kept permanently (even if the people concerned are never convicted, or even charged), the BBC reports that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that keeping such people's DNA in the database 'could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.'" Reader megla adds a link to the full text of the judgement.
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Human Rights Court Calls UK DNA Database a 'Breach of Rights'

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  • Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tripdizzle (1386273) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:31PM (#25993889)

    where at present the DNA of those arrested by the police is kept permanently (even if the people concerned are never convicted, or even charged)

    I'm pretty sure they already do this in the US with fingerprints. No conviction? Well, if we find your fingerprints at any crime scene in the future, you're gonna get it.

  • Privacy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Justin Hopewell (1260242) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:33PM (#25993905)
    As bad as privacy rights get trampled here in the states, I'm so very glad I don't live in the UK.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:34PM (#25993923)

    Well, now whenever someone gets off, they'll bemoan those "damn bleeding heart liberals who let another one get away over their preeeeciiious rights". What nobody on either side of the debate wants to admit is -- you can't have a perfect justice system. No matter how much technology, funding, profiling, science, and everything else you throw at it, it will be flawed. Innocent people will be found guilty, guilty people will get away, and there will always be doubt and speculation.

    As a society we have to decide what's more important: Catching as many criminals as possible, or providing a system that is as fair as possible. The two are mutually exclusive -- you either bias towards letting the guilty get away so the innocent are not needlessly punished, or you sacrifice some innocents to "protect the greater good".

    The Court here has basically told the UK -- The rights of the many outweigh the sins of the few.

  • by RotateLeftByte (797477) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:35PM (#25993935)

    The Home Sec (aka Wacky Jackie Smith. You know the one who says 'I knew nothing' about the police raiding an Opposition MP's office like they do every week in Zimbabwe) is reviewing the implications of the Judgement.

    From that I read 'Ok Chaps how can we get out of this fine mess you have got me into?'
    And an underling pipes up
    'Just DNA Test Everyone. That way there can be no discrimination'

    However the Court is getting wise to the tricks of NuStasi (sorry New Labour) and is going to monitor the compliance with their ruling closely.

  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BearGrylls (1388063) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:37PM (#25993957)
    Unlike fingerprints your DNA can also be used to partially identify relatives as well. Law enforcement could use this to make partial dna matches to a person that would otherwise not be in the system if a relative already was.
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:39PM (#25993995) Journal

    Sometimes I'm cynical about the EU. To be sure, there is a lot of completely pointless and stupid busy work such as regulating the curvature of bananas and so on. On the other hand, the UK government seems capable of such outright maliciousness that the only thing we have left is the EU. I'll take bouts of stupid and useless over bouts of mindless repression any day.

    The sad thing is, we neither elect the EU nor the house of lords. Yet I find myself agreeing with them much more often than with the elected government. Well, what do you expect? Despite getting only 37% of the votes cast, they act like they earned their large majority.

  • by Peil (549875) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#25994051) Homepage

    "The existing law will remain in place while we carefully consider the judgement "

    Su-fucking-perb! If I ever get nicked and found guilty of an offence I'll be sure to use that one as I wave two fingers at the Judge.

    As we have seen only this week over here the Police are out of control, the Government are scared of them and it is slowly dawning on people we have just sleep walked into a police state.

    The cops turn up at your door, seize computer equipment, lets be honest you aren't going to get your kit back for a good year at least, even if your innocent. While they have it they can demand all passwords, failure to comply gets you up to two years. Then they get to take your DNA and fingerprints. If you match up at any crime scene you better have a decent alibi son, "cos the Database don't lie". (Just don't mention the Shirley McKee case)

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:44PM (#25994061)

    The police have really overstepped the mark these past few years and it's showing with their latest search of the MPs office.

    They think their above the law and I'm sick of these policemen that never get charged with doing anything wrong.

    Off the top of my head the police have been caught speeding, killing people because their visa expired, racial abuse, searching without a warrent, etc. They're above the law and I am happy they have been bought down a peg, even though it's a pretty small victory.

    They still no to be more responsible for what they do.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:51PM (#25994177) Journal

    I mean, what is the government going to do with my DNA? Clone me? Invade my privacy by finding out what diseases I'm vulnerable to?

    Use it to drag you out of your house and charge you with a crime you may or may not have committed, just because a computer says that you might be the suspect based on that DNA (when in truth you may well not be). All it would take is for a small database corruption or some programmatic error, and suddenly you end up having a lot of explaining to do, even if you have nothing to explain.

    There's also the 'what if' angle of if/when your government gets repressive. Easier to figure out where and who you are down the road when they have DNA to match you up against...

    /P

  • by GMonkeyLouie (1372035) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [eiuolyeknomg]> on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:51PM (#25994183)

    Indeed true. Also, terrorists don't win unless you allow them to influence your policymaking process. So stop telling us to give up rights.

    (I got my views on terrorism from Laura Roslin)

  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:58PM (#25994265) Journal

    So you'll happily post your bank account number and PIN code, then? How about your Social Security number and real name (and if not a US Citizen, similar ID)?

    Privacy may or may not be "contrary to democracy", but it is essential to any civilized society. I seriously do not want or need to know how often you do anything sexual and in what ways. I also have zero interest or need to know your bank account access details, what kind of food you eat or may be allergic to, or any other detail that is usually private for that matter.

    That's the thing - there's a huge difference between information that is in the Public Interest (e.g. criminal records, court proceedings, Deeds and property abstracts, etc), and stuff that only you know about and would prefer to not spread around.

    /P

  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:59PM (#25994273) Journal

    Democracy relies on people having access to as much information as possible so they can make wise decisions. Privacy is contrary to democracy.

    A bold but vague statement.

    Access to information is good, but it should be relevant information. A lot of private information is irrelevant to participation in a democracy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:05PM (#25994369)

    You don't elect "the EU", but you elect the European Parliament. The constitution would have given the parliament greater power. Beyond that the EU is run mostly by the governments which themselves are democratically elected.

    To compare it to the House of Lords in terms of its democratic legitimization is completely bananas.

    As is, BTW, rehashing UK scare stories about EU bureaucracy. The thing is, most of these kind of standardization requests come out of the industry itself for various reasons.

  • by hotdiggitydawg (881316) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:05PM (#25994371)

    Not particularly, no. I don't really mind the government maintaining a DNA database.

    This is the same UK government that is so expertly careful about protecting [scmagazineuk.com] personal [theregister.co.uk] information [securitypark.co.uk]. Any information you give them (and I mean anything... contact details, date of birth, NI number (=SSN for you Americans), medical history, tax returns, your library borrowing list that shows you have a penchant for lycanthropic porn, etc. etc.) you may as well cut out the middleman and post it on MySpace for the world to read, chances are it will become that public in short order anyway. And you're willing to trust them with your DNA?

    In that case I have a bridge you may be interested in purchasing...

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:05PM (#25994375)

    Nice troll, but I'll bite. The one crucial aspect you're missing has to do with the word "arrested". It's justifiable to store somebody's DNA after he's been convicted. But an arrest is just an accusation. There is no due process, no judge, no jury, nothing of the sort. There ought to be no penalty for an arrest alone. That's what "due process" means.

  • About time too (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 99luftballon (838486) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:10PM (#25994433)
    As a British citizen I'd say that this practice was an absolute outrage. If someone has been officially charged and found guilty then fair enough, a DNA profile is justified as part of the price of doing the crime. But to do this merely on arrest is a gross affront to civil liberties and one that has left 1/12 of the population on this database.

    The argument is often made that it is a handy tool for solving past crimes and if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear. I beg to differ.

    There have already been cases of criminals planting false DNA on crime scenes (Dr. John Schneeberger of Canada) and, while the technology is very useful, it is not the be all and end all of evidence.
  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:17PM (#25994509) Homepage Journal

    Democracy relies on people having access to as much information as possible so they can make wise decisions.

    I think you're confusing democracy with capitalism. Capitalism requires the public to have as much information as possible about products and organizations. Democracy requires the government to have only as much information about its citizens as are necessary. As others are pointing out, privacy is necessary to avoid tyranny.

  • by codegen (103601) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:20PM (#25994559) Journal
    You do realize that they don't store the entire sequence in the database. DNA identification is based on a set of marker pairs, which are considered to be among the most variable in the human genome. It is of no use in mapping the genome. Close pairs have been discovered between completely unrelated people in the existing databases. So a plausible scenario: DNA shows a close match with your brother who was detained but never charged nor convicted (protesting against new 3 strikes law). As a result the Police pull you in as a "person of interest" since a close match is usually interpreted as matching someone related. Your boss finds out you have been questioned for murder at the same time you are competing with another co-worker for a promotion. Guess who gets the promotion?
  • Re:Figures... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joewhyit (1311009) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:20PM (#25994561)

    Sorry, thought you got the memo. Apathy and complacency on the part of the masses has allowed for the replacement of true democracy with a hollow, farcical version of the same.

    Note to self: trademark the term "Democracy Theatre".

  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:21PM (#25994571)

    When did the ability to obfuscate the truth about things and operate from the shadows become an important part of democracy?

    At, or at least not later than, the time the secret ballot became an important part of democracy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:27PM (#25994663)

    All it would take is for a small database corruption or some programmatic error

    Actually, less than that. All it takes is a misunderstanding of statistics. If you have a large DNA database and a DNA sample from a crime-scene, then if you use it to find suspects - as many politicians would like to do - then you are bound to get a significant number of false positives, even when the tests are very accurate. The "1 in a billion" statistics that get thrown around regarding DNA matches estimate the chances of two random people matching. Once you expand your search to a country of 60m, the chances of a coincidental match is significant. Read up on the birthday paradox. And because people are told the "1 in a billion" statistic, whoever gets fingered for the crime is seen to have a massive chunk of evidence pointing to his guilt.

    There's also the 'what if' angle of if/when your government gets repressive.

    That argument has never really held weight with me. Do you also advocate gay people remaining in the closet? After all, if people know that they are gay, then if the government decides to execute gay people, they are fucked. How about atheists? People who wear glasses?

  • Re:Figures... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:27PM (#25994665)
    You and I may not want to know these things ... but someone with an axe to grind might find that information very "useful"...
  • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:28PM (#25994679)

    ...one of the people that got arrested and released does a crime against you or your family. Then the breach of rights complaint that the person made mysteriously disappears.

    Breach of rights? What rights? The right to NOT have your DNA stored in a government database if you were to get arrested for committing a crime?

    Stop right there. As far as the law is concerned, the person who's accused of committing a crime against you may or may not have done so. It is up to the justice system to decide whether or not they did, and once that decision is reached, if the answer is "not guilty" (or, for that matter, "we aren't pressing charges"), they are entitled to receive exactly the same treatment by any member of society (or indeed society itself) as if the suspicion had never occurred.

    That's the whole point of "innocent until proven guilty", it's been the whole point of British justice for centuries.

    What you're effectively advocating is that a person who has ever been arrested for any reason, should be automatically considered "more likely a criminal" than the rest of the general public - even though the police may have kept them for no more than a couple of hours before realising they'd made a mistake and releasing them without charge.

    The only fair way to deal with that - and, what I suspect, the home office may well advocate if they think they can get away with it - is to take DNA samples from the entire population.

  • Re:Figures... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Smauler (915644) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:36PM (#25994765)

    I'm not sure where you live, but Secret Ballots [wikipedia.org] are part of just about every western democracy. That's right, privacy is pretty much integral to all modern democracies.

  • by Yokaze (70883) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:41PM (#25994821)

    > With this ruling, what they're saying now is that this hypothetical person would walk, because the DNA sample would not be in the database.

    Yes, the same way his DNA wouldn't be in the database, when he hadn't have been arrested for a crime he didn't commited in the first place.
    Or the same way, this hypothetical person walks free, because not all persons are DNA sampled from birth, or have to wear a GPS tagged collar the whole day around.

    The point is, a person being arrested, but not convicted, is not guilty. The same way everyone else is.

  • by M-RES (653754) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @07:34PM (#25996339)
    Tuttle != Buttle
  • by Lazy Jones (8403) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @08:12PM (#25996835) Homepage Journal
    The sad truth is that whether the court agrees with tne notion that it's a breach or rights or not, even if authorities will be prohibited from using the existing database officially, everyone knows that some authorities (MI5, MI6) will keep on using and sharing it ... It exists, so the damage is already done.
  • Re:Figures... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @08:51PM (#25997251)

    You realize that secret ballots aren't part of a democracy.

    They are certainly part of a democracy. In fact, they are part of very many democracies.

    They are not essential to democracy in theory, though they have proven to of benefit to free and fair elections (without which there is no real democracy) in practice.

    They weren't done in the US for about the first 100 years.

    True.

    No one bought votes or committed fraud any more than now.

    I would not agree with that assessment, though the open ballot isn't the sole problem which contributed.

    Around the time of the Civil War, there were more voting issues, poll taxes, and voting barriers. One of the barriers was large white men with sticks that would beat you to death if you voted for someone they didn't like. Voting in secret helped get past that.

    I would argue that that demonstrates vividly one of the ways the secret ballot has proven essential to free and fair elections, without which any claim to democracy is a sham.

    The only reason to keep secret ballots is if you think that people would physically harm you if they could find out who you voted for.

    Physical harm is not the only form of retaliation and source of intimidation to be concerned about, but it certainly is the most important one.

    Personally, I think the US is past that pettyness

    Sure, no one is ever assaulted for their expressed political views in the US.

    but then most people that are for secrecy are the people I would be most afraid of.

    "Most people that are for secrecy"? That's, in the US at least, not far from a majority of the population, as the secret ballot isn't even a slightly controversial issue in the US.

  • by VJ42 (860241) * on Friday December 05, 2008 @05:16AM (#26000463)
    I think either you missed my point, or I didn't express it well enough. My point is that if people talk about "NuLab" or "Zanu Laour" doing x, y or z then you know they think that the action they are taking are more comparable to IngSoc or Mugabe's ZanuPF as opposed to those of a responsible political party of government in a western democracy. It's a hyperbole and a quick comparison to show your disgust at the action, not a detailed analysis of the situation. Either way, it's not really flamebait to anyone execpt Labour party members anyway (and after her statement yesterday it seems even some of them would be happy with the OP's description of Jacqui Smith as "Wacky Jaqui").
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2008 @05:34AM (#26000533)

    Sometimes I'm cynical about the EU. To be sure, there is a lot of completely pointless and stupid busy work such as regulating the curvature of bananas and so on. On the other hand, the UK government seems capable of such outright maliciousness that the only thing we have left is the EU. I'll take bouts of stupid and useless over bouts of mindless repression any day.

    The sad thing is, we neither elect the EU nor the house of lords. Yet I find myself agreeing with them much more often than with the elected government. Well, what do you expect? Despite getting only 37% of the votes cast, they act like they earned their large majority.

    and there is the rub, at least with the House of Lords as is USED to exist. These guys, the Lords, are as old as England itself. They had wealth beyond measure and truly believed in 'England'.

    I was a republican until I realised that the 'upper house' has no ca. 4 ear cycle in which to prove a point. In a way, the Lords are immune from the vagaries of a knee-jerk society.

    I will take, now, in a heartbeat, the thoughts of someone who thinks by his birthright that he IS England over some newly appointed sop. This is conservatism with a small but very pointed 'c'.

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