October 20, 2008
MI5 and the police may be allowed to secretly collect genetic samples from items such as cigarette butts and teacups under new laws that could massively expand the national DNA database.
The powers would allow investigators to break in to suspects’ homes to collect DNA which could then be shared with foreign governments to check for links to crime and terrorism.
The new law, being discussed by Parliament, would mean the ‘stolen’ samples – thousands of which have already been taken by the security services – would be admissible in court and at a stroke hugely expand the Government’s controversial DNA database.
But human rights activists fear the new powers could lead to more innocent people having their DNA stored and, due to cross-contamination, being wrongly accused of crimes or terrorism.
The proposals, which are contained in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, were outlined last week by Security Minister Lord West in the wake of Labour’s unsuccessful attempt to introduce legislation to hold terror suspects for 42 days without charge.
The move comes despite growing fears about the rapid expansion of the national database, which stores the details of 4.2million people, including 573,639 who have not been convicted, cautioned or reprimanded for any offence.
Lord West said: ‘During surveillance, a DNA sample may be obtained without a warrant. A good example might be where a person discards a cigarette or a drinks container. It can be collected covertly and a sample taken.
‘Or, should a covert human intelligence source be used, the person under surveillance could visit the source’s house and a sample could be taken from a teacup.
‘There is a real need to share this data internationally, especially where terrorism is concerned.’
But opponents say taking DNA samples without their being cross-contaminated is difficult, even for trained specialists.
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