Afua Hirsch

London: The British government is planning to get around a European court ruling that condemned the U.K.s retention of the DNA profiles of more than 8,00,000 innocent people by keeping the original samples used to create the database.

A damning ruling last December criticised the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the U.K.s current DNA database — which includes DNA from those never charged with an offence — and said the government had overstepped acceptable limits of storing data for crime detection.

Last month, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she would publish a white paper setting out “a more proportionate, fair and commonsense approach”, but she has not given any indication whether DNA samples already obtained would be destroyed.

However, Home Office sources said the government, which was given three months to respond to the ruling, had “no plans” to destroy samples of DNA.

The revelation raises questions about the extent of the government’s response to the court’s findings and prompted fresh criticism of its “surveillance state” ambitions. The London-based Guardian newspaper this week revealed the scale of government plans to mine data on innocent citizens from public and private databases in order to enhance the fight against terrorism.

Writing in Friday’s Guardian, Justice Secretary Jack Straw accepts he must climb down on a controversial clause in the coroners’ and justice Bill, which civil liberties critics have warned is too vague and widely drawn. Mr. Straw admits there are “justifiable concerns” that personal data could be used for purposes far removed from their original intention.

Since its foundation in 1995, the database has become the world’s largest. Of its 5 million entries, more than a million are children and 8,57,000 innocent people. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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