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back to article Gov advisers slate Home Office over innocents' DNA retention

The Human Genetics Commission has slammed the government over the rampant expansion of the UK's DNA database. One retired police officer told the Commission that the databases existence had changed policing practices, with some officers making arrests purely to get samples on the system. The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) is …

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Big Brother

Oi, Z-Cars.

Stop being the paramilitary wing of the Office of National Statistics, and go and catch some real criminals.

dungeekin.blogspot.com/2009/11/if-you-want-to-know-time.html

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Wonder why

They havent started taking the babys DNA as soon as its born lol..

Oh hang on giving them ideas here.....

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Big Brother

Shocked!

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you to discover that MPs and other members of the government have not queued up at their local police stations demanding to be added to the DNA database. After all, if they have nothing to hide...

...Oh, now I understand.

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FAIL

on there own patard

""Research shows no clear link between the level of offence for which an individual is arrested and the seriousness of any subsequent offence with which they may be associated.""

so there is on link between previous arrents and subsequnt arretst so there for DNA form arested but not convicted pepol is usless (they can not sack me I do not work for them)

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Anonymous Coward

Gene Hunt

It's the Gene Hunt school of policing.

You must be guilty of something, otherwise they wouldn't have arrected you.

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Black Helicopters

@Dungeekin

I share the sentiment having been there and only arrested when really necessary.

I think you will find that it is much more sinster then the Office of National Statistics, the SS and Gestapo spring to mind.

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Paris Hilton

It doesnt matter

The home secretary gives 3.9 million quid of our money to the Jill Dando institute of made up science and imaginary research so I am sure they will come up with some reasons why this can be ignored.

After all there track record on making up stuff and publishing it is well proven and its interesting to note that not one of those scientists has been given the boot by the home secretary. I guess he still has confidence he can dictate what they will say.

Paris - more credible than the home offices pet scientists.

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Question...

When we hear about DNA its usually with a statistic such as, "There is a certainty of 1:3,000,000 that the DNA belongs to the defendant."

There are what, 60 million people in the UK, doesn't that mean that a decent number of people can "share" that DNA? Spread them around the country and what with the UK being pretty small, you can have 6 people within easy driving distance of just about any crime (made up figure alert)

For the example, lets say the police have a couple of hits on their DNA database, one has a great alibi (He was having dinner with a vicar) but one has no alibi... Dare I ask what happens next?... A bunch of other people "share" that DNA, but do we think the police would look for them?

Now someone with some background in DNA/biology/law tell me I'm worried over nothing.... please ?

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@Anonymous Coward 10:57

I did use the term 'Stasi' in the accompanying article, which is probably more appropriate - but I wasn't sure it would get through moderation! ;-)

D

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Boffin

@Subban - The problem with DNA ... again

When plod say "DNA database", they mean they store a HASH of a DNA genome sequence. It's equivalent to identifying people in the UK by putting their surname after their postcode.

Now if you have a sparsely populated database, and you are searching for a match, then it's more likely to be a single, correct match. However, the bigger the database gets, then the more chance there is of multiple matches - in the same way that if you had a database of the entire UK, with postcodes, you'll more than likely find more than one SW11AASMITH.

So now you have 2, 3,4 matches for a sample found at a scene. Of course when the owner of the database DNA is located and their *full* DNA is run against the sample, the match will either be exact or not.

The problem is, a lot of innocent people are going to get hauled into a police station, just to be exonerated. And you can bet your life that their arrest (because plod WILL arrest them) will happen at work, with their colleagues muttering "no smoke without fire".

However, I remain confident the NDNADB will collapse under it's own weight. As it gets bigger, and plod start getting 20, 30 matches per sample, they will start to tire of 29,39 wasted trips. Plus the fact that if you have 30 matches then 1 will have died, 2 will be on holiday, 3 will have moved, etc etc ... plenty of "reasonable doubt" for a jury to acquit with ....

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Coffee/keyboard

@Gene Hunt

Congratulations Sir or Madam. Best pun I've heard in ages.

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Anonymous Coward

The census

I filled out the last one to the point where it expanded on the one before that. I said at the time the next one would have a little window for you to insert a hair with follicle, or drop of blood. Well, we're almost at census time again, but of course, people, and possibly those they particularly want the DNA from, would do stuff like put somebody else's on, so I guess having the police do it gradually is much more efficient. This Govt will make the trains run on time!

@@Dungeekin

Yes, people will be wrong-footed by the perception that being like the National Socialist Govt. of Germany in the '30's/'40's is an absurd and offensive comparison. But they seem to think that if you strip the concentration camps, mass murder and invading other nations, the Nazis were basically decent people! But actually its happening again. Totalitarianism.

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Megaphone

Can anyone tell me the difference between the UK and a

WORKHOUSE!

We work to pay rich people so they can carry on ripping us off

We have no say in whether our Country goes to war

We have no say in how our police force behaves

We have no say in how our behaviour of our politicians behave.......

Oh wait that is one thing we can still do. Get up and VOTE. Its our only avenue of redress left.

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Anonymous Coward

@irish donkey

Voting is great when you have a choice of what to vote for.

In the UK the choices appear to be

1: We make loads of promises about what we will and will not do, we may present some slightly different ideas to 2 but that's not important because election promises aren't actually important once we win, what we'll really do is make our mates rich and the rest of you don't matter

2: see 1

3 and everyone else. vote for us, we can promise whatever we like because we're not going to win anyway so you'll never find out that in reality we're 1 and/or 2

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Silver badge

Innocents?

Don't talk about innocents, everybody is guilty of something and it's just a matter of finding the crime.

Sinners, all of them, take it like a man.

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Black Helicopters

The direction was obvious...

...once they announced that essentially *all* offences would become arrestable offenses.

BTW I left the UK 3 years ago and never regretted it for a moment. I suggest you all do the same, while you still can.

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Any suggestions?

Somewhere preferably not too hot. :P

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Anonymous Coward

Labour: Everyone is a potential criminal

http://www.labourlist.org/stand-up-for-dna-database

"As a member of the Labour Party, I would like to argue why I believe a DNA database, where swabs of DNA are taken at birth - and of people coming into the country - is not only fair but also vital."

"“Do you want to live in a society where everyone is considered a potential criminal?”, asked Will Self on Question Time last Thursday. The reality, and I hate to break it to you, Will, is that everyone is a potential criminal."

"The DNA argument cuts both ways. Not only has the current database helped convict 270 people in the last year, but also the use of DNA has released innocent people from wrongful inprisonment. When questioned on this, it is easy to flare up Minority Report rehtoric, and state that the government having your DNA is somehow ‘scary’, but the only logical objection I could possibly have to it is if I planned to commit a crime in the near future. I don’t, if you’re asking."

--------

There we have it, this is from the Labour list, which is really a Labour vehicle for their self promotion. So presumably all the Labour MPs will voluntarily have their DNA placed on the list, as will their local party members. As will this man.

If you look at the results of their choices, you see a collapsing society, where everyone eyes everyone else with suspicion. Nobody knows their neighbours, children are ten times more likely to be in prison,....

They have made a succession of bad choices, and treating everyone like criminals is just another one of those.

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Grenade

Still in situ...

Hasn't Prof. Montgomery 'resigned' yet?

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@Pogle S. Wood

While I don't necessarily disagree, you'll note I referred to the Stasi rather than any of the Nazi-regime organisations.

I'm never knowingly Godwinned. :-)

D

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Anonymous Coward

@Subban regarding probabilities

The probability given to the court of x in y million is actually a very conservative value which takes into consideration populace and sibling commonality. Otherwise the database would've been increased from 11 to the proposed 16 loci some time ago - as it stands, the UK records more data than many other country, which produces far lower genotype frequencies per DNA profile.

Also, can everyone please remember: DNA evidence cannot be used by itself in a UK court of Law, it can only be used as supporting evidence. period.

The reason the police record DNA from suspects is because they can perform familial searches with the idea being that if you're a bad apple but not on the database then your brother or father probably is.

Still, none of this sits well with me and I really wish that the Home Office would listen to us/sense/scientists/advisers/polls/EC ...

Anon, because alot of people like to hate over this topic without being rational, I however, respect Forensic Science ...

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Boffin

Numerical context

"We know that the DNA database is a vital crime fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender."

So, assuming that there's a 1:1 match of crimes to crime scenes (I'm willing to bet it's actually 1:1 and a bit though), that's less than 1% of recorded crime has DNA evidence.

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FAIL

Hay

"We know that the DNA database is a vital crime fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender."

Wow, that's a lot of caveats.

So, what they're basically claiming is that in 10 years Plod has found some DNA, some of which may have possible sort of given them an indication of who may have been around the 'scene' at some point, which may have possibly helped them identify some people who may have been the offender.

Not very convincing, is it?

As I keep saying, adding more hay to the haystack does not make the needle easier to find...

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@ Subban

As has already been posted, it's not your DNA thats kept, but a DNA profile (those lovely little black and white bar-graphs on acetate).

It's generally accepted that, at any one time, there are around 20 people in the world who have the same DNA profile as you.

When used correctly, a DNA profile can be damning evidence, but it has to be stacked up with evidence gained from old school policing - i.e. his car was parked outside the house, his mobile phone was on and in the house, he has no alibi and his DNA was found at the scene.

If the only evidence is the final one and given that, due to the worlds population in general not being particularly nomdic (by and large, people remain relatively close to the point they were born), the other holders of the same DNA profile are likely to be family members living in relatively close proximity, then there should be a reasonable doubt that the person in front of the jury may not be guilty.

This is why the DNA profile should never be the sole or even main piece of evidence to convict someone.

The problem is, that the DNA profile is being built up to stand on an ever higher pedestal as the determiner (whether true or not) in convicting criminals.

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Anonymous Coward

@Subban - The problem with DNA ... again

" When plod say "DNA database", they mean they store a HASH of a DNA genome sequence. It's equivalent to identifying people in the UK by putting their surname after their postcode."

Yet the Home Office decided to use the DNA markers to determine a persons origin in Africa, and decide if they can apply for asylum or not.

That's the nature of big intrusive databases, they always start out with one purpose in mind, and the use just grows and grows. In this case it's not a hash, it's a lot more information than is needed to simply tell them you are citizen number 1034559.

If you wish to make that argument, then it should be done so in an open and honest way, and if the Labour MPs believe it, they should first put their own DNA on the database.

I do not.

I think as soon as a DNA database is available it will be profiled, used for non crime purposes and will become very very intrusive and that these things must be considered. It is not good enough for ACPO to do it, then for Labour to simply rubber stamp it.

Suppose for example, blood is donated and tested and found to have traces of illegal drugs. Do you then let the DNA database be used to match and prosecute the blood donor? In the US, 15% of DNA tests found that the child was not the fathers (unfaithful wives), do you factor this in in insurance (married yes/no.... dodgy marriage accord to DNA) ? What about eligibility for school places (father is in catchment area but is that really his kid)?

What if you mine the data and find a correlation between the markers and tendency to cancer, do you let the NHS have the names of those with those markers? What about the life insurance companies?

Why did we let the police decide this? Why do the geneticists have to complain in order to be involved in discussions about genetics? How come the police aren't the first to be on the database if they are driving this?

Also why do Labour MPs keep talking about guilty and innocent people as though there is no difference? You see it again and again....

http://www.labourlist.org/stand-up-for-dna-database

"Currently, the DNA of convicted criminals is kept on a database for six years, and the Conservatives want to reduce this to five, as this is believed to be the period in which another offence is most likely to take place."

Actually the DNA of convicted criminals is kept permanently and INNOCENT PEOPLE, FALSELY ACCUSED OF CRIMES BY THE ROZZERS, removed after 6 years. He can't tell the difference!! And we know it will not be 6 years, because there isn't justfication to keep it for 6 days, it is just that they think they will be in power again after 5 years and can then extend it again.

There is a right to privacy, they have no committed any crime, therefore you cannot take away their right to privacy, this Stasi state thinking needs to end. It's a disease, it's a cancer it grows and grows and will ultimately kill Britain.

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Big Brother

@Subban

The 6-year rule is merely a facade. The plan is to keep DNA on-record until you can be convicted of something.

New legislation is planned under the "You Must Be Doing Something, You Bastard" Act 2009, announced in the Queen's Speech last week:

http://dungeekin.blogspot.com/2009/11/new-dna-regulations-announced.html

D

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Big Brother

In Other News...

...Bears defecate in the woods and the Pope wears a daft hat....

Did they seriously not see this coming?

If the Police suspect someone of something but don't have anything concrete to go on, they will arrest them for some minor or trumped up offence and see if they score a winning line on the DNA lotto.

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JMB

DNA

"- All police officers should have their own DNA collected as a condition of employment"

Does that mean that they are not already required to give a sample of DNA? I would have thought they would need to in case they contaminated the scene of a crime. But if they don;t then it makes a mockery of the statement we keep hearing about having nothing to fear if you are innocent.

T

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Megaphone

'ello, 'ello, 'ello

Heard a comment on the radio this morning - a senior police office made the comment "... it can also be used to prove you are innocent."

Now at first glance, this might not seem a major issue - but understand this. The law (as it still stands) is that you are innocent UNLESS proven guilty. This is a cornerstone of English law and has been in place for many centuries. This is in fact a principle that many thousands of people died for.

It is not for you or anyone else to have to prove your innocence - you are innocent by default. They MUST prove your guilt, and if they cannot do so, you walk free and can probably sue them for wrongful arrest.

However, the useless gits that think they know better want to change the law - if you don't agree with them, you know what to do.

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Thanks...

...for the responses guys.

To respond to a point above. I was aware that DNA evidence alone *shouldn't* be enough to convict, but I think that isn't as inflexible as it might once have been, things are changed now,, people clearly are NOT innocent until proven guilty any more.. Circumstantial evidence + a DNA "match" is liable to be enough I fear :[

Either way, taking and keeping DNA from people simply arrested and acquitted is plain wrong. Its should not be allowed period but the heck can we do about it. I've tried contacting my MP about things before, all you get at best is a nice letter back saying, "nice to hear from you, but I'm gonna do this anyways," .... Guy Fawkes.. the only bloke to go to parliament with the right idea :[

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mh.
Thumb Up

Also from the report

"- All police officers should have their own DNA collected as a condition of employment"

Probably worth highlighting this. After all, nothing to hide, nothing to fear, yes?

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Not really...

In the real [uk] world there are a myriad of offences of which you are presumed guilty unless you can prove your "innocence" (car speeding but no pic of driver).

And a few where silence is an offence (RIPA).

And very many samples taken from a crime scene are not from the crook, or victim.

But if the sample is from a recorded dna sample...

I wonder if anyone has got around to spreading anothers detritus around a crime scene to mess things up ?

And would we know anyway ?

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Black Helicopters

I believe

that mathematically it can be proved that there are many people with exactly the same fingerprint or DNA on the planet.

Unless evidence of this nature is collected from every living person and compared to exclude the possibility then one can only say that there is a 1:n chance of it being unique. Therefore there must be a 1:a chance of it not being unique.

Perhaps someone would like to workout the value of a using the figures given for n in the scientific literature.

As I understand it even if the value of n is greater then the planets entire population it does not exclude the the other alternative.

Is there a mathematitian out there who would like to play?

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Anonymous Coward

Bad Science, anyway...

As for the civil rights implications of blatant DNA gathering - it's all been said above. But what never seems to be said often enough is that forensic use of DNA is simply Bad Science - in practice at least. Apart from the standards of lab-work and auditable evidence, the statistics involved are ludicrous, and impress only the scientific and mathematically dyslexic. Even many of the people who helped develop the techniques have distanced themselves from the popular-magic DNA has become. Even if that were not so - like all forensic evidence, all you have at the end of the day is someone on the witness stand saying what they're paid to say.

If called for jury service I would never - under any circumstances whatever - convict anyone on DNA evidence alone.

And on the mention by several people of the Godwin syndrome - I'm far more nervous of the reverse-Godwin syndrome. That is the inability of so many people to see creeping totalitarianism, even when it's staring them square in the face. They do say that those who forget history...

But then what does any of it matter anyway? We have 500 channels of HDTV, multiple soaps and reality TV, and a gutter press that plays to the lowest common denominator. What could possibly go wrong?

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@eJ2095

You want to give 'em ideas, it'll be for health reasons that they start taking DNA at birth.

You mark my comments, Date below.

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Bronze badge

@Subban - errors and malfeasance limit the odds

The claim of stupendous odds for a DNA profile mismatch is a bit misleading from the outset. It's rather like the situation with birthdays. The odds of two people sharing one is about 365 to 1, but when just 23 people are chosen at random there's a better than 50% chance that two will have the same birthday. The accuracy of profiling also depends greatly on the quality of the samples: the crime stain may often be less than optimal.

http://www.bioforensics.com/conference08/Complications/index.html

But there's an overwhelming factor that would limit the odds even if the technology were perfect: the possibility that malfeasance has affected the result, either someone on the side of the authorities or criminal associates setting up a fall-guy, or a gross accidental error and subsequent cover-up. With examples in other areas provided by the cases of Sally Clark, Barry George, Stephen Downing, Shirley McKie ... and the error rate when similar processes are used for medical screening ... the claim of odds of a false match of DNA profiles of millions to one seems rather far-fetched.

Without doubt DNA profiling does provides a powerful forensic tool. Failings in the criminal justice system, however, are not improved by the spurious claims of infallibility.

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Stop

Big Numbers and Frilly Knickers

""We know that the DNA database is a vital crime fighting tool, identifying 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009 with a DNA match and a possible lead on the possible identity of the offender.""

Is it just me, or do the powers that be have a thing for big numbers at the moment?

With this kind of "look at the big numbers!" approach, we could prove the necessity for police to wear frilly knickers.

"We know that frilly knickers are a vital crime fighting tool, being worn by investigating police officers at 410,589 crime scenes between 1998 and March 2009. In that same period, 98,271 criminals were arrested by police officers wearing frilly knickers. Furthermore, counter terrorist officers have successfully worn frilly knickers combined with corsets, stockings and suspenders in over 200 counter terror operations in that same period.

"In contrast, police officers not wearing frilly knickers have not managed to catch any of the as yet uncaught criminals responsible for currently unsolved crimes."

If the Home Office really did have convincing reasons for retaining innocent people's DNA profiles, they wouldn't need to scrape the barrel with such pathetic attempts at persuasive arguments as quoted in the article.

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Big Brother

ISA and Vetting?

How do these kinds of arrests affect vetting by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA)? Don't they take arrests themselves into account?

The UK is now a country in which suspicion is grounds for arrest, and arrest is grounds for suspicion.

I think I hear the sound of Joseph Heller and George Orwell high-fiving...

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Bollocks statistics

Oh dear....

the same old same old in respect of the statistics of DNA matching.

There are two "sources of error" in dealing with DNA matches. The first is error due to a random match - and this is both what prosecution like to bleat about and what everyone else on this thread is going on about.

It is the probability that for a given number of DNA points sampled, some other individual on the planet will have identical DNA to your own. Various posters have correctly noted that this figure is usually in the millions to one against.

The second source of error is, quite simply, the probability of a false positive from ALL causal sources. False positives may arise because some bugger contaminated a sample. Because someone lied. Because samples got mis-labelled. And so on.

Such cases exist - and since court cases tend to run into the thousands worldwide...as opposed to the millions in each year.... an error for one of these reasons would occur with odds against of thousands to one. Not millions to one.

Oddly, outside of some very rarefied criminology departments, no-one much is researching this topic...which is a shame, because it would be pretty easy to get a lower limit figure for this sort of error.

And it would be disingenuous of courts to claim that one can talk about error due to random matches and not talk about error due to, well, error.

Basically, the chances of your getting a false positive on a DNA match are the chance of a random match PLUS the chance of a match by error.

Oh...and don't even get me started on the probability of having committed a crime given the presence of your DNA at the scene of crime. For rape, say, presence of genetically matching semen, if you are not claiming a misunderstanding over consent, is pretty damning evidence.

However, I have spoken to people "fingered" in cases where multiple DNA profiles were preent at the soc...and the police appear simply to have fancied them for the offence.

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Silver badge
Flame

Start at the top

All MPs, their partners and their children should be added.

All civil servants (regardless of grade), their partners and their children should be added.

All serving and ex-police officers, their partners and their children should be added.

Once that's done, then we can look at adding the innocent public to the system. The above should give them a big enough dataset to work the kinks out. If they have nothing to hide...

As to "proving you are innocent" in a post above. I hope the officer meant "to discount you from further inquiry" rather than prove your innocence in court. If he meant the latter (and did in fact say it) then he needs to be removed from his job.

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Anonymous Coward

@Subban

According to state of the art in UK forensics. For a statistically significant match you need to have about a 1 in a billion chance of a match between 2 people. There are other problems though. For example 0.2% of the population are identical twins who share exactly the same DNA. Cross-contamination and laboratory errors are also possible (for example very similar profiles may be incorrectly matched in the lab by human error).

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@ Tony S - proof of innocence?

"...a senior police office made the comment '... it can also be used to prove you are innocent.'"

During its introduction, DNA profiling was indeed instrumental in bringing to light a false confession. It now seems to be a fairly common misconception that profiling will often or easily assert innocence, and this aspect is much emphasised by promoters.

First of all, only in a small proportion of criminal cases is a crime strain available. Even when a crime stain profile doesn't match that of a possible perpetrator this doesn't of itself provide proof or innocence or non-involvement.

Without DNA profiling a fair few innocent people would indeed still be in prison. But there must be many times more who are similarly innocent but for whom there is no possibility of retrial on the basis of DNA evidence. (An estimate by American attorneys based on DNA retrials reckoned the proportion of innocents in jail for serious offences to be of the order of 7%.)

The 'proofs of innocence' don't so much provide an endorsement for widespread use of profiling. Rather they show up failings in the criminal justice system. And if authorities and police are so keen not to imprison innocent people, why do even obviously well-justified appeals take so long to come to court and why is there such reluctance to admit errors when these have occurred?

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RW
Big Brother

What this reminds me of

In the US, failure to pay federal income tax is a criminal offense. Here in Canada, it's merely a civil offense, like any other debt.

Why the difference? Because in the 1930s, it was the only way they could nail Al Capone. The cops were too stupid, lazy, corrupt or something to do their job and nail him for his actual crimes, so a new crime was invented, the evidence for which was all your luxurious possessions - where'd the money come from?

Nowadays, Americans fear the IRS - no way to run a democracy, imho.

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Stop

@Subban ... Guy Fawkes..

If you seriously think that the 'right idea' was to kill the protestant King and attempt to put a Catholic sympathiser on the throne of England, and maybe throwing the country into a state of religious civil war, then by all means keep using the 'amusing' (or not) tagline..

If , however, you are aiming this nugget of perceived wit at the potential extermination of incumbent MPs then try something else ;)

Best Regards Zimmer

(pedant of the week award pending)

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Don't speed: And get caught

Because speeding is a criminal offence !

So, you could be "dna'ed" for that !

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jsp

Re: Labour: Everyone is a potential criminal

Reassuringly (slightly) nearly all the comments on the labour list web site are condemming the writer for the moron he is.

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Sorry: Forgot URL

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23406663-speeding-drivers-face-dna-swabs-under-new-big-brother-powers.do

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'UK' database?

This doesn't happen in Scotland. If you're not charged your DNA isn't kept on file.

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@john murgatroyd

I'm told that the scratters from our local estates sometimes gather cigarette ends from outside local pubs, where the now-banned smokers stand, and drop them at burglary sites to pollute the DNA evidence. The funny bit is that most of the local pubs where they collect those from are pretty exclusively patronised by crooks and drug -dealers anyhow.

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W-W

A win-Win situation then, for the police.

They get someone for something whether they did the precise offence or not !

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