One in ten children will be on DNA database by next year

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By 2009, 50 of the 1.5million children held on the database will be under tens. A staggering 1.5 million children - more than one in ten of Britain's total - will be on the National DNA Database by next year, new figures reveal. Of these, nearly 50 will be under ten-year-olds.

The news has prompted criticism from civil liberties campaigners who claim that Britain is going too far in compiling data on people. The Conservatives have also attacked the alarming statistics, saying the country was 'witnessing the end of the presumption of innocence in our country, especially for our young people'.

This week the Government announced that, as of January 31, the database contained the DNA profiles of 44 youngsters, even though they are below the age of criminal responsibility. An explanation for why such a young child's DNA is on the database is that if police believe a child is involved in a crime, they could take a DNA sample to establish if this was the case, or to eliminate them from enquiries.

A child under ten might also have a DNA sample taken to eliminate their profile because they were a victim or were present at a crime scene. Currently, all DNA samples taken during criminal inquiries in England and Wales are retained, but most are destroyed in Scotland if the person is not charged or convicted.

In England and Wales a child under the age of ten is below the age of criminal responsibility, meaning the DNA samples on the database must have been taken with the consent of a parent or legal guardian. The DNA database includes 4.5million samples of genetic material, making it the largest system of its kind in the world. Many are taken from people who have been arrested but never charged with a crime. The data is currently growing at more than half a million a year.

Around one million samples have been taken from youngsters under the age of 18 - many of whom have never committed an offence. Some 150,000 samples are from children under the age of 16. By next year, it is predicted that 1.5million of the samples will be from youngsters aged between ten and 18. With an estimated 13.1million children under 18 in the UK in 2006, it means that more than one in ten children could be on the database by 2009.

This week a police chief said he thought all children as young as five should be recorded on the national database. Gary Pugh, forensic science director for the Metropolitan Police, said:

children should be 'targeted' because signs of future criminality could be found in children as young as five.

The proposal sparked furious protests from civil liberties groups and critics of Britain's ever-growing surveillance society.

But Mr Pugh, who speaks on DNA for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:

If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.?

Mr Pugh's comments have fuelled fears that Britain is taking another step towards becoming a police state. Home Office officials have indicated that plans to include primary school children on the DNA database would be kept under review. The 'Big Brother' system is the biggest in the world and covers one in 13 of the whole UK population.

The astonishing pace of growth has intensified concerns that the Government plans to create a universal genetic database by stealth, building a system which treats every citizen as a potential criminal from the day they are born.

Although the database is a crime-fighting tool, producing around 3,000 matches a month with samples taken from crime scenes, around a third of all the DNA stored is taken from individuals who were not charged with any offence, and have no criminal record. Details are held until a person dies.

Critics believe the system is open to sinister forms of abuse, and that the dangers are growing as the database expands. They claim the data has been used for genetic research without the consent of individuals involved, including controversial attempts to predict 'ethnic appearance' from DNA profiles.

Campaigners also fear unscrupulous government agencies could use the database to track political protesters, find out who they are related to, or to refuse jobs or visas to anyone considered 'undesirable'. They have demanded tougher safeguards including time-limits on storing data and an independent regulator.

Critics also point out that the dramatic expansion of the DNA database has not made it any easier for police to solve crimes, since huge numbers of mostly law-abiding citizens are being caught up in the system who are unlikely to commit any serious offences in future.

Taken from the Daily Mail 21stMarch 2008

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