LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s DNA database, the most comprehensive in the world, should remove details of people who are acquitted of crimes, a government-funded panel said on Wednesday.
A “citizen’s inquiry” instigated by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) also called for the National DNA Database to be taken out of direct control of the police and government, with oversight handed instead to an independent authority.
The conclusions will fuel controversy about the ethical foundations of the database, which was established in 1995 in Britain -- the country where scientists first pioneered the technique of DNA fingerprinting.
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It now contains genetic profiles on more than 4 million people, representing the highest proportion of any population on a forensic DNA database in the world, at over 6 percent.
The information has been a boon for detectives but its rapid growth has caused unease. One big fear is that future governments could abuse the information.
“We don’t know how it will be used in years to come,” said panel member Hamida Hurd.
The four-month inquiry, conducted by 30 members of the public, will feed into a further report by the HGC, a government’s advisory body, in 2009.
“There is clearly a balance of good and harm. We all acknowledge the advantages but we can also see that, if we run too loose, we may cause collateral damage,” acting HGC chairman and Nobel prize winner John Sulston told reporters.
The proposal to delete DNA records is likely to be opposed by police, on the grounds that it could make it more difficult to solve past crimes, or “cold cases”.
But it was backed by the chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Albert Weale, who said the DNA of innocent people was largely irrelevant to such investigations.
“Figures on the number of cold cases that have been solved are often used to support the retention of unconvicted people’s DNA,” he said.
“However, the Home Office admits that almost all of the offenders convicted under the cold case programme have proved to be persistent and prolific violent criminals, whose DNA would be on the database anyway.”