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Issue

DNA

Genetic samples are some of the most sensitive forms of personal data. DNA holds the key to a person’s identity and as such must be protected with the utmost care.

DNA profiling can be useful in criminal investigations, and for medical purposes like paternity testing, but increasingly governments are seeking the ability to search vast databases of DNA profiles in the hope of solving future crimes. In addition to the DNA of convicted criminals, police forces are also demanding access to the genetic profiles of innocent people who were once wrongfully arrested, or those who have donated DNA on an (ostensibly) anonymised basis for health research.

Over 60 countries worldwide have developed DNA databases to detect, investigate and prosecute crime. The United Kingdom holds the largest database of this kind. Although this information is legitimate and relevant for the protection of public safety, these databases must be tightly regulated to ensure compliance with human rights. The collection of genetic samples must be limited to serious crimes in which DNA is relevant to the investigation, genetic information must be used in a proportionate manner, and profiles must not be retained beyond what is necessary in a democratic society.

We have worked with leading organisations to build awareness of the risks of collecting and retaining DNA for forensic purposes. We also conduct research on the emergence of these policies and help our international partners to engage in the subsequent debates. Where necessary, we have filed briefs with international human rights courts.

DNA

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

“Open government” – the push for greater transparency, accountability and innovation from governments – is an idea that has gained increasing traction in recent years, as the potential for new technologies to enhance democracy is being realised.

But making government more open and responsive should not mean compromising on privacy and data protection. The Open Government Guide outlines steps governments can take towards more open government and Privacy International has written a draft chapter on privacy for the Guide, which is now open for comment.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Privacy International today is proud to announce our new project, Aiding Privacy, which aims to promote the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Below is an outline of the issues addressed in our new report released today, Aiding Surveillance.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world. The problem, however, is that there has been a systematic failure to critically contemplate the potential ill effects of deploying technologies in development and humanitarian initiatives, and in turn, to consider the legal and technical safeguards required in order to ensure the rights of individuals living in the developing world.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Today’s much-anticipated launch of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index, an industry standard for assessing transparency among major aid donors, shows that, despite progress, many aid agencies continue to maintain secrecy around what they are funding.

Further, for those agencies that achieved high rankings in the index, transparency alone does not prevent one of our larger concerns: aid which facilitates impermissible surveillance of communities and individuals in the developing world. Biometric databases, electronic voting registration systems, criminal databases and border surveillance initiatives are being backed by Western donors keen to see the adoption abroad of technologies that raise considerable controversy at home.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy is internationally recognized as a fundamental right. Yet the confines of the right to privacy are subject to never-ending games of tug-of-war between individuals, governments and corporations. These games are rarely fair – individuals are often under-informed and lack the capacity to assert and protect their privacy, while those who seek to erode it are increasingly overbearing and secretive. This is particularly the case in developing countries, where the absence of adequate legal and institutional frameworks and safeguards facilitates unhindered corporate intrusion into privacy. Governments also collect and share excessive amounts of personal data in the name of development, security and the modernization of public administration. In many developing countries, though constitutional provisions may already exist, privacy is still being entrenched, and the capacity of human rights organizations to educate and advocate is still growing. But in the meantime, governments are spying on their citizens, corporations are buying and selling personal data, and individuals are consistently losing the tug-of-war. 

Report
26-Jan-2011

Privacy International, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Media and Communications Studies (CMCS), are pleased to present the study "European Privacy and Human Rights (EPHR) 2010", funded by the European Commission's Special Programme "Fundamental Rights and Citizenship," 2007-2013.

EPHR investigates the European landscape of national privacy/data protection laws and regulations as well as any other laws or recent factual developments with and impact on privacy. The study consists of 33 targeted reports, an overview presenting a comparative legal and policy analysis of main privacy topics and a privacy ranking for all the countries surveyed.

Privacy International has conducted an analysis of the country reports. Our research team has taken additional information from other sources to provide the summary information below for each country, noting the key developments and identifying the state of affairs.

Press release

Today, 60 countries worldwide operate national DNA databases, and at least 34 more are considering putting them in place. The use of DNA evidence in criminal investigations can bring great benefits to society, helping to solve crimes, convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. However, the mass storage of DNA samples and computerized profiles in databases raises important human rights concerns. Your DNA profile can be used to track you or your relatives. Your DNA sample has the potential to reveal predispositions towards certain illnesses and behaviours, as well as the current state of your health. This is not an issue restricted to convicted criminals; as the practice of collecting and storing DNA samples from those arrested but never convicted of even minor offences increases, innocent people all over the world are being added to databases.

Blog
Privacy International's picture

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 further widens the circumstances in which a non-intimate sample may be taken from an individual. The Act merely requires that in order to take a non-intimate sample without consent, a person is arrested for a recordable offence - a significant advancement on the requirement that the individual was charged with a recordable offence and one that will encompass countless more individuals.

Blog
Privacy International's picture

The UK currently maintains the largest DNA Database in the world and is encouraging other governments to implement similar systems in their respective countries. Using international organisations such as Interpol, participant governments will be able to share and exchange the DNA profiles of their citizens subject to vague legislative provisions, such as 'the interests of crime detection and prevention'.

Background

The successful prosecution of a serial sex offender in 2004 led to strengthened calls for a more active use of the global DNA database operated by Interpol. Caroline Dickinson was 13 years old when she was raped and murdered in a hostel in Brittany whilst on a school trip in 1996, but it was not until 2004 that her killer was convicted. Early police investigations had not raised any significant leads but at the persistence of Caroline’s parents, the French police authorities changed their traditional operational practices and conducted the first mass DNA testing in France, taking over 3,500 samples. This did not however prove to be fruitful in assisting the capture of the perpetrator.

Blog
Privacy International's picture

A campaign to eliminate the DNA profiles of 24,000 innocent juveniles from the database has been instigated by a Conservative Member of Parliament after a lengthy battle to remove the record of a concerned constituent’s son who was arrested as a result of misidentification. The National DNA Database currently holds the records of 750,000 juveniles – some of whom have been convicted of offences but many of whom were only charged, cautioned, questioned or were mere witnesses to incidents.

The DNA profiles from more than 750,000 juveniles have been added to the UK's National DNA Database since its inception in 1995. Approximately a third of these samples were obtained in the last two years as the table below illustrates[1]:

 Year

Estimated Number of 10 to 17 year olds added to the Database

Blog
Privacy International's picture

The most significant amendment of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (hereafter 'CJPA') is the amendment to the circumstances in which samples may be retained. The Act allows for retention of samples even where charges are dropped or the individual is cleared of the offence. It also allows for such samples to be used for (future) purposes related to the detection and prevention of crime, both in the UK and abroad.

In relation to the taking of samples, the CJPA 2001 amends PACE by removing the need for a superintendent to authorise the taking of an intimate sample with consent or authorising the taking of a non-intimate sample without consent from an individual and substituting it with ‘inspector’[1].

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