UK defiance

May 8, 2009 at 5:48 am Leave a comment

Did the UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, miss the European Court of Human Right’s (ECHR) landmark ruling of December 2008 – S. and Marper v. The United Kingdom (Applications 30562/04, 30566/04)? I ask this because this was an important ruling that the UK has decided to give the finger to. There’s a little something known as the European Union’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Specifically, Article 8, which says:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

And in S. and Marper v. The United Kingdom, the ECHR ruled that the UK’s DNA database violated the Convention and specifically Article 8. Let us recall the ridiculousness of the UK’s national DNA database – it retains cellular material and DNA profiles of over 5% of the UK population (or 8%, depending on what you read) andnow holds genetic profiles of more than 5 million UK citizens (over 585,000 of these profiles are taken from children aged under 16). Anyone arrested and detained at a police station, even if they are not subsequently charged with an offence, will have their DNA swiped and loaded up onto the database.

And Section 44 (Stop & Search Powers) of the Terrorism Act 2000 has given UK police wide powers to collect DNA samples (and no reasonable grounds are required to stop and search). Official figures recently published show (surprise, surprise!) that stop and searches have soared from 37,197 in 2006-07 to 117,278 in 2007-08. Disturbingly, the number of black people stopped under these powers rose by 322%, compared with an increase of 277% for Asian and 185% for white people.

But the UK is contemptuous and defiant because they have decided the DNA profiles of innocent people will remain on England’s national database for years. There are two categories. Those arrested but not convicted for serious and violent offences will have their DNA profiles retained on the database for up to 12 years; those arrested and not convicted of minor offences will have their profiles retained for 6 years.  And if you’re a kid with a DNA profile, well you have to wait until you’re 18 before your profile will be deleted.

Why 12 years? Has the UK government plucked this figure out of the air? Has the UK forgotten the presumption of innocence under Common Law? Does the UK not realise that it is in breach of Article 8 and weakening the private-life interests of hundreds of thousands of innocent people? Does the UK not think that the profiles of innocent people to be kept for 12 years makes those people vulnerable to stigmitization? They seem to be treated just the same way as convicted people. Heck, even DNA fingerprinting pioneer, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, has condemned UK government plans to keep the genetic details of innocent people for up to 12 years. And Shami Chakrabarti, head of civil liberties group Liberty, says: “Wholly innocent people — including children — will have their most intimate details stockpiled for years on a database that will remain massively out of step with the rest of the world.” Liberty further alleges that“Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on this database, but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are”.

Really, this is simply the devious actions of a government that is obsessed with pre-emptive security measures. Jacqui Smith has always called the DNA database a vital crime-fighting tool but this misses the point. Citizens are entitled to privacy, respect, trust and freedom UNLESS they break the law. The Home Secretary has said that the national database will help solve old and future crimes. But in my view, this sort of national surveillance tool has no place in a democracy. Oh, silly me, I forgot the UK isn’t a democracy; it’s a police state. Sad to see that a European Court has to be the one to fight for the civil liberties of UK citizens.

Image source: Mail Online

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Entry filed under: Civil liberties, surveillance, Surveillance society. Tags: , , , , .

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