back to article Lords demand DNA database deletions

The House of Lords forced another climb-down by the government yesterday by voting to amend the rules for the DNA database to allow innocent people to have their DNA samples destroyed and removed from the database. The Lords heard that existing guidelines made it all but impossible to get off the database once you were on it. …

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  1. Carl
    Thumb Up

    Be quick

    So the key is that once you've been proved innocent you need to act fast to get yourself removed before 'you' turn up on a usb key on a random bus somewhere or on a laptop sold on ebay...

  2. Dave Gregory
    Thumb Up

    Good!

    I'm on that *%%^$" database for simply reporting an alleged crime; an unfortunate series of events that led to me (innocent passer-by who happened to have a phone with him) being arrested under suspicion of a very serious offence. Pretty soon afterwards, the allegations that the "victim" made against me were discovered to be utterly false (and that she had made similar allegations about three other men in the past), yet I remain on the database. The police did not even have the courtesy to reply to my emails on the topic, nor even apologise for arresting me.

    Thank god NewLabour didn't manage to abolish the Lords!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Down with democracy.

    Bring back the aristocracy!

    They seem to have more in common with "the man on the street" (tm) than the Commons.

  4. b
    Happy

    Hurrah for their Lordships!

    See title

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Isn't it weird?

    Our elected officials seem to hate us, the ones who've just inherited the job seem to have a half-decent grasp of what's important...

  6. Paul Buxton

    Truth stranger than fiction

    This is the Lords right? Unelected aristocracy fighting for my liberty where our elected officials just "promise to listen in the future". Well the future is NOW.

    I've decided that next election I'm going to vote for The Queen! Bring back monarchy, out with Stalinism! I swear allegiance to The Queen of England, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

    Nuff said.

  7. Jimbo
    Paris Hilton

    Hurray for the un-democratically-elected old duffers

    Around the end of the last millennium I was given a cunningly-worded invite to have a swab taken, after going to an all-night garage for some fags on a saturday - the VERY SAME day of the week that a woman had been attacked near the garage earlier that month, which naturally made me (and presumably every other male who popped into the garage that night) fair game for a bit of hot databasing action. Ten years on, I'm still looking forward to the chance of getting plod to do what they were supposed to do (removing my details from the database once they'd got the right guy), hopefully before they leave my details on a train somewhere. Go on you Lords.

    Paris, cos I'd give her a sample of my DNA anytime.

  8. Maurice Shakeshaft

    Why does it take an unelected legislator to defend the General Public?

    What is the Government and Civil Services agenda here? It seems like they have completely given up on defending a persons right to anonymity - or don't we have that right, it was always a myth and technology is available to broadcast our details to the world.

    If we have a "right" I'm more than prepared to accept my share of the responsibility that goes with it but it seems as though nanny state doesn't want to interfere with business and other processes by properly protecting the citizen. The state is a creation of the citizen not the other way round and it is about time our politicians and civil servant recognised and accepted that.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Innocent people are just....

    ... people who haven't committed a crime yet. There are some things I will not yield and presumption of future guilt is one of them.

    Put it this way, if you're innocent, it just means I haven't made what you're doing a crime yet.

    Jacqui Smith (Rt Honorable Mighty Emperor)

  10. ElFatbob

    Nice one...

    for the old farts....New respect!

  11. Greg

    God bless the Lords

    When I was younger I used to think they were stuffy old duffers getting in the way. How wrong I was.

  12. Gareth Jones

    Phew!

    I know it's not over 'til the fat scot sings, but it's a relief non the less.

    Given that old one eye has said that we need to accept that the government keeps losing our data how long do you think it will be before they accidently leave the whole DNA database on a laptop in a pub?

  13. john loader

    Sanity at last

    Fingerprints of the innocent have to be destroyed, genetic fingerprints i.e. DNA can be kept. Makes no sense and the law needs to be changed

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Accountability sucks

    The Lords aren't accountable to anyone. Not an electorate, nor their appointers. So they are free to vote on their own consciences and experience rather than toeing some abominable party line that some career politician or Civil Servant thinks will get them votes from the tardy proles, and/or increase their personal power, as applicable.

    Long may this continue. I'm starting to think that the method by which peers are granted their membership of the Upper House is irrelevant, so long as the procedure for getting them out is arduous and requires distinct malfeasance on the part of the Peer.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Irony?

    Does anyone else spot the irony of an unelected upper chamber being the only body protecting our freedoms?

  16. Peter Hawkins
    Thumb Up

    The thin ermin line....

    How many people like myself have previously held this lot in near contempt yet time and again they seem to be the only branch of this whole rotten system with any grasp of reality.

    Forelock duly touched/tugged in your general direction, your Lordships and Ladyships.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Excellent

    This has been overdue for a long time.

  18. Steve Davies Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done your Lordships

    But I fear this will only lead to a further attempt to neuter your powers by NuLab in the forthcoming Queens Speech.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Irony

    How times have changed, those un elected peers so disliked by the right on hippy types (who we happy that the commons act or what ever it was, was used to push through the hunting ban) now seem to be all that stands between the Govt and 1984. Good job they have legislation to help rail road these things through (and the fox hunting ban).........

  20. Inachu
    Thumb Up

    Not good.

    If the criminal has been proven innocent then yes delete the innocents DNA all across the Govt DNA database where ever they may be.

  21. Codge
    Stop

    Thank you,our un-elected overlords.

    Once again, the dastardly plans of Wacqui Jacqui et al are scuppered by the good old House of Lords.

    Thank <insert deity of choice> for them.

  22. Gareth Jones

    @Inachu

    So you have some problem with the concept of "innocent unless proven otherwise" then? Actually don't bother to answer that, you clearly are of the Daily Mail reading persuasion. And as all DM readers know, anybody arrested by our fine 100% competent police force must be guilty of something.

    Remember the police think that the very fact they *thought* Jean Charles de Menezes was somebody else was justification enough to kill him. You may support the idea of the boys in blue being judge, jury and executioner, but most of us have reservations.

  23. David Pollard

    Everyone or no-one

    Isn't there a technical problem here? It's not possible to preserve a complete and fully functioning audit trail without also keeping details of records that have been deleted or modified.

    If the system allows amendments and deletions to be made without a full trace being preserved, then the data is not secure. If a full trace is preserved then records can only be cloaked rather than deleted.

    Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys, having reasoned through the implications of the technology that he ushered in, made it clear at the outset that if they were to allow social equity DNA profile databases would have to be all or nothing. Most still seem to ignore the valid argument that he presented.

  24. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
    Boffin

    deletion is hard to do

    and even harder to prove that it's been done (impossible in fact). But what the hell, I for one welcome our new Chimeric Overlords.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Maurice Shakeshaft

    No government has ever been in favour of anonymity for the masses - the more information that they have about individuals, the easier it will be for them to remain in power.

    It's quite possible that people enter politics with the best intentions - but those seem to have deserted them by the time they get "to the top"...

    Can't remember where I read it, Heinlein?, but the sentiments behind "Those who desire power, are the last ones you should allow to wield it" seem more and more true as time passes. The peers have a large fraction of people that haven't gone out of their way to be where they are, and therefore on average are likely to be more balanced than the scoundrels that want into power.

  26. Chris C

    The clue is in the example

    "The example provided in guidelines is if everyone in a building is arrested and has DNA forcibly taken after the discovery of a body. If this body subsequently turns out to have died of natural causes there might be an argument for deleting those people's DNA records."

    That example provides you with all you need to know about the thought process. In any reasonable, civilized society, there is absolutely no way that every occupant of a building would be arrested or have their DNA forcibly taken simply because a dead body was found in the building. That in and of itself destroys the presumption of innocence by saying "we don't know who did it, so you're all suspects".

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- the police take the mangled phrase "innocent until proven guilty" too literally. That phrase states that everyone is guilty, and their guilt simply has not been proven yet. Contrast that with the original phrase "innocent UNLESS proven guilty".

  27. Chris
    Go

    'commons' sense

    thank the lords!!

    Why is it we have to depend on them for their common sense instead of that other lot who supposedly represent us?!

  28. Rab S
    Thumb Up

    Nice to be right...

    Been saying for years that the house of lords was a protection against fucked up goverments. Pitty Nu Stazi have already manged to damage them somewhat.

    Can see a harder attempt to bring down tge upper chamber though.

  29. Paul Buxton

    @David Pollard

    "If the system allows amendments and deletions to be made without a full trace being preserved, then the data is not secure. If a full trace is preserved then records can only be cloaked rather than deleted."

    There is one simple flaw in your logic. This is NuLabour and therefore security is not an option, only fear is an option. Records can and should be deleted and no trace preserved.

    "Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys, having reasoned through the implications of the technology that he ushered in, made it clear at the outset that if they were to allow social equity DNA profile databases would have to be all or nothing. Most still seem to ignore the valid argument that he presented."

    You must have missed the point of Sir Jeffreys argument, the main crux of it being that the Government should not be allowed direct access to it.

    You make it sound like Sir Jeffreys is in full support of the Government's plans for a DNA database and I can assure you that this is far from being the truth. Most of the people who ignore Sir Jeffreys valid argument are the Government, probably because Sir Jeffreys main argument for a DNA database includes the suppression of Government access to it. As a scientific tool which could reap health benefits for millions of people, the Government want to take his research and turn it into a tool to suppress people. Sir Jeffreys is understandably a bit miffed at this, and rightly so.

  30. Jonathan

    whyis everyone surprised?

    most of the point of the house of lords for ages has been that its not a short-sighted vote-grabbing grubby little forum like the house of commons.

    its the only place in the government where "will Sun readers like this" isn't important.

    and people want to get rid of it, or make it a short-sighted vote-grabbing grubby little forum like the house of commons!

    why?

    (as (in part) it also functions as the highest court in the land.. lets make those positions political as well?)

  31. Mark
    Paris Hilton

    re: irony

    No, it's not. Because thos "hippy types" don't like what this "Left" government is doing.

    Maybe that they don't act the way your stereotyping demands they do (hence seeming ironic), the problem is in the stereotyping?

    Maybe?

  32. Jonathan McCulloch
    Boffin

    @inachu

    "If the criminal has been proven innocent then yes delete the innocents DNA all across the Govt DNA database where ever they may be."

    You cannot prove innocence, since it's impossible to prove a negative ("prove you didn't commit the crime"). What's more, you don't have to: you are innocent until proven guilty.

    What's more, criminals are what you get AFTER the trial (and a guilty verdict). Up until then, they're innocent. So, you don't prosecute criminals: you prosecute innocent people who then become criminals on conviction.

    -- Jon

  33. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Excellent news!

    It's pleasing to see that there are still some people with the power to stand up to our Big Brother Government's creeping removal of our liberties!

  34. Frederick Karno
    Thumb Up

    another nail in the database society ???

    You now know why Nu Labour wanted to get rid of the Lords and fill it with people who have supported them and have enough skeletons in their closets to ensure they will toe the line....

    "guilty until proven innocent " are the new society watch words....

  35. michael

    re:Everyone or no-one

    "isn't there a technical problem here? It's not possible to preserve a complete and fully functioning audit trail without also keeping details of records that have been deleted or modified.

    If the system allows amendments and deletions to be made without a full trace being preserved, then the data is not secure. If a full trace is preserved then records can only be cloaked rather than deleted.

    Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys, having reasoned through the implications of the technology that he ushered in, made it clear at the outset that if they were to allow social equity DNA profile databases would have to be all or nothing. Most still seem to ignore the valid argument that he presented."

    not realy it is posible to have a delete stub in the database saying somthing like "record num # added #/#/# remove by request of subject date #/#/#"

    nothing to point to who it was and no dna tag

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    what's wrong with those 150?

    Haven't they had their DNA forcibly taken and put on the database. Maybe that would help them change their minds about this police state.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glad it's not just me

    I've been worrying for a while that I'd started to think that the lords probably should stay un-elected, I'm glad it's not just me!

  38. Graham Marsden

    @AC 16:57

    "Those who desire power, are the last ones you should allow to wield it"

    It wasn't Heinlein (he was just in favour of only letting the military rule), but similar sentiments have been expressed by Arthur C Clarke and Douglas Adams.

    PS @what's wrong with those 150?

    > Haven't they had their DNA forcibly taken and put on the database.

    Nope, they were probably just in the Lords Bar when the time to vote came and the party Whips said "go and vote for this even though you haven't read it"...

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Two Words

    While this is truly great news, only two words come to mind when thinking about Labour's reaction to this House of Lords' decision ................. Parliament Act.

  40. David Pollard

    @ Paul Buxton

    As best I can tell, Prof. Jeffreys sees forensic DNA profiling as a useful tool which can help to establish innocence or guilt. From the outset he has drawn attention to the dangers of social inequity which arise if the technology is used to construct partial databases.

    Equality before the law can be provided either by having everyone on the NDNAD or having no one on it and relying instead for policing on the crime scene profile database. In each case stringent public scrutiny is required to minimise malfeasance and errors.

    From the Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmsctech/96/9607.htm:

    'During this inquiry we also heard reservations about the practice of retaining DNA profiles of suspects who are never charged with an offence, or found not guilty. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys told us that he was "totally opposed to the extension of the database" in this way, regarding as "highly discriminatory" the fact that "you will be sampling excessively within ethnic communities, for example"'

    @ michael

    If the database contains deleted stubs without any (cloaked) link to the original details and an archive containing them then the audit trail isn't complete. There would be no way of knowing, e.g., that someone hadn't paid to have a record removed. To provide a full audit trail all the data that has ever been entered has to be available somewhere together with records of amendments and deletions.

  41. Justin Silver badge
    Alert

    Why do you have to ask to be removed?

    If you are not convicted of the crime that was the purpose of collecting the DNA sample, it should be AUTOMATICALLY erased.

  42. Gulfie
    Thumb Up

    Irony? Double irony, surely

    A lot of the comments here infer that people have forgotten the NuLabour overhaul that the Lords has been given since '97. Initially there were about 800 unelected peers, NuLabout changed this, getting rid of most of them and instead undertook a 'ballot stuffing' style exercise, putting in a lot of people of their own choosing.

    The fact that they are willing to stand up for common sense and to fight the Orewllian future we appear to be almost in is most refreshing. Well done M'Lords and Ladies, keep up the good work.

    Its a very American book but I thoroughly recommend 'Little Brother' by Cory Doctorow (and the audio book is pretty good), you could almost call it a 'modern 1984'.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    DNA Eugenics

    Not only does retaining records of the innocent promote the governments view that we aren't really innocent just haven't committed a crime yet, but the innocent (or rather not yet guilty) are used as a control group when commercial companies are allowed to access to samples for 'research'. http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539491 This research aims to tie racial characteristics to the probability of criminal behaviour, and can only be described as Nazi style eugenics. It is just 63 years since the end of WWII, and we are letting this happen again.

  44. George Speller
    Black Helicopters

    Buying fags?

    Jimbo - a heinous crime like "going to an all-night garage for some fags" is sure to get you permanently on the swines' database.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    The House of Lords

    Before ZanuLab and Bliar tried to butcher it beth House of Lords was a superb example of Britishness. Over the hundreds of years of it's existence it acted as a brake on the possible, or as currently the actual excesses and stupidity of the government of the day. The Lords has the opportunity to examine legislation in more detail and ( excuse the caps as I want to make a point ) BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE ANY PARTICULAR PARTY ALLEGIANCE can look at proposed laws from a more unbiased view than the Commons. Over the years they have done a pretty good job of this and, contrary to left-wing opinion, have not held up any legislation.

    The fact that hereditary peers owe alleigance to the Crown has always been a fact that governments of all colours did not like. To make the House of Lords all elected would mean that their traditional largely independent views would be replaced with following party lines.

    I am all in favour of reforming the House of Lords - by re-instating all hereditary peers and appointing others for a fixed term - selected from volunteers by, for example, the Taxpayers Alliance, pensioners grups and ex-Armed Forces personnel.

    AC as I am one.

  46. Graham Marsden

    @THEY DO NOT HAVE ANY PARTICULAR PARTY ALLEGIANCE

    Err, sorry, but that's not the case.

    Yes, some Lords, eg the Cross Benchers and Bishops don't have any party allegiance, but the rest of them most certainly do being Labour/ Tory/ Lib Dem peers (and often ex-MPs)

    There's plenty of Party political BS still going on in there, the only difference being that the Lords don't have to worry about re-election.

  47. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Ummm folks...

    The Lords haven't done anything that can't be undone by the Commons. The Lords have voted to amend part of the current Counter Terrorism Bill rather than pass it unchanged. The amended bill now has to go back to the House of Commons where the government can simply remove the amendment, pass *that* version of the Bill and send THAT back to the Lords for a further reading. The Lords could then choose to re-amend the bill and send that back - so-called Parliamentary Ping Pong - when all sorts of loathsome government toadies come out of the wood work to rail against the Lords frustrating democracy.

    However, I don't think it'll go that far, because of Parliamentary timing. The current session is coming to an end later this month and it is unusual for a bill to be carried from one session to another. If the bill is not given Royal Approval before Parliament is preroged then the whole bill falls and must be reintroduced from the very beginning. So the government will be expecting the Lords to accept Parliamentary Supremacy and to accept the original version passed by the Commons on the grounds that the House of Commons (and don't laugh now) represents the will of the people - okay take a few minutes to compose yourselves.

    For the Lords to stand firm and refuse to let the Commons get its way would be incredible. The government could choose to force the bill through using one of the two Parliament Acts, but I'm not sure if this is one of the bills the PAs are supposed to apply to.

    All of which shows why the British model of the legislature is broken. We still have a bicamaral assembly, but the Commons has decided that all of the power is held in one chamber. Much better if we had either a unicamaral parliament or the American model of two elected chambers with different voting systems and different election dates. The Labour Party approach to reforming the HoL would be to make it just as toadying to the executive as the Commons. So like most of the people here, I'm with the Lords on this one.

    Now if only we could get a proper consitution...

  48. Mark
    Black Helicopters

    @David Pollard

    Why must we protect against purchased deletion? Any such deletion would have a trail in other areas: the bank account suddenly getting out of the red, long holidays "at a friends house". Hookers and blackjack.

    And the scenario is so unlikely that why should EACH AND EVERY CITIZEN be dinged by a "protective" measure?

    If you hear a "wop..wop..wop" it's all in your mind.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @mike Richards

    The only problem with the American system is that it's still controlled by two parties who are both bought off by big business and special interest groups (whether RIAA or nutty religious) or are afraid of their own shadows and fail to stand up on their hind legs and make a show of things.

    Would that any one of them had the courage to tell all the special interests to F off and do what is right for the country instead of worrying about "how much money did I bring back to my state or i'll Fail at next standing for election".

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