By JP Floru
It's high noon for those who want biometric data of innocents removed from police databases. This morning the Protection of Freedom Bill Committee will meet for the line by line discussion of the Freedom Bill.
The Freedom Bill is to undo the abolition of a raft of civil liberties by the last Labour government. Sort of. Where the last government enacted the retention of DNA of anyone ever arrested – irrespective of whether they were later charged of convicted – the proposal today is to keep only… part of it. And to make it all a lot more bureaucratic.
DNA profiles of an estimated 800,000 innocent people, including children, are currently kept on the database. The Bill proposes that biometric material (DNA, fingerprints, etc. ) of people arrested for minor offences who are not charged and not convicted, is to be destroyed as soon as possible. But those who were arrested for a serious offence, but are subsequently not charged, will see their DNA kept for 3 years…with a possibility to extend for another 2 years. In other words: the DNA of people who were apparently innocent will still be retained by Big Brother.
It is odd that this is proposed. The Coalition Programme promised the implementation of the Scottish system of DNA retention. The Scottish system demands the destruction of DNA information of those arrested, but not charged. At whose instigation was this tuned down? What about living up to a promise?
There is a second worrying proposal on DNA retention in this Bill. If material is to be destroyed under the Bill, a “responsible chief officer of the police” can decide that it is to be kept indefinitely on national security grounds (initially 2 years, renewable). As Liberty states: there is nothing in this Bill to prevent a high proportion of material from being so retained. A Commissioner will review such “national security determinations” – but this could very well become a rubber stamping exercise. The victim can only go for expensive Judicial Review. Why should a policeman have that power? Surely this should at least be sanctioned by a judge?
It’s the moment of truth: is this government serious about civil liberties? Why does it propose to keep innocents on the DNA database? Why does it propose to give policemen the power to keep DNA forever of spurious national security grounds?
Apart from Liberty, the Adam Smith Institute and Big Brother Watch, few are protesting at this stage. Perhaps some have decided that the battle is lost: one only has to switch on the television for five minutes to find propaganda for biometric data retention. “I don’t care because I’ve done nothing wrong” or “as long as I’m safe” are some of the most commonly heard justifications to abolish freedoms.
As Benjamin Franklin said: "He who sacrifices liberty for security, deserves neither."