Research in the UK has shown that police forces in Britain are continuing to add the DNA – and incidentally the fingerprints, although this is never mentioned – of innocent people to the DNA database despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that it was illegal (and the government’s promise to accept the ruling). According to The Guardian newspaper today, 90,000 innocent people have been added to the National DNA database (NDNAD) since a the court ruling and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – incidentally, a private organisation – is still telling chief constables to continue with this collection. On the other hand the process of removing individual profiles has been painfully slow: only 611 DNA profiles of innocent people have been removed, and all as a result of individual challenges in court. It seems that the police are determined to drag their feet as long as possible and, in fact, break the law quite openly. Hardly a good example…
As if the govenrment wasn’t in enough of a bind over the police National DNA databases, in a landmark ruling yesterday, the High Court of England and Wales has decided that the DNA of the innocent should not be on the database in the current legal circumstances. The man from County Durham was maliciously accused of assaulting a pupil at the school at which he was a teacher, and despite volunteering for questioning was arrested, fingerprinted and swabbed. These records were of course kept despite his innocence.
This story reminds us that being on the NDNAD is not an isolated thing, but part of a complex network of records that do imply suspicion (like it or not) – even Sir Alec Jeffreys, who pioneered DNA fingerprinting, thinks so… in the case of this teacher, he would have been wrongly suspected every time he applied for jobs working with children.
This is another indication that the government’s policy on the DNA database and police tactics to populate it, have been not just morally questionable but illegal, and confirms that the response issued this week was inadequate and devious. It will be interesting to see how they might now immediately have to modify their plans to conform to this new ruling (which, being a British court, they can hardly blame on ‘un-British’ European law)…
Last week I mentioned the approval of the biometric passports scheme by the European Parliament, and that there were several countries that planned to fingerprint children under the age of 12 despite the legal, ethical and technical problems with this.
However, what I didn´t mention is that – surprise, surprise – Britain is one of the countries that does fingerprint kids, and indeed it has already been fingerprinting foreign children resident in Britain as young as 6. As Privacy International´s Gus Hossein argues on The Guardian´s Comment is Free website, the UK government claims that this is only bcause the EU has forced this upon them when in fact it was the UK government that forced the EU into adopting that position in the first place!
Now, as I mentioned, the European Parliament has pushed the age limit upwards, but will this make any difference to the UK Home Office? Given that the Home Office is still ´carefully considering´ its responce to the kicking it received from the European Court of Human Rights over the taking and retention of the DNA of 857,000 children, I wouldn´t bank on it.
There are more details of the new Brazilian ID card and system on Renato Siqueira’s Conversa Digital blog, including some informative images and photos. It seems that far from eliminating the various different numbers currently used, this new system will merely create a kind of overlay. And, not only that, but the CPF, RG and electoral number will be printed on the back. Unless every single transaction will actually require the taking of fingerprints or the verification of photos, this card will be even more of a convenient source of personal information to thieves and fraudsters than ever before. Plus the chip technology is the same standard format that has proved to easy to clone and access illicitly elsewhere…
The European Union’s plan to introduce biometric passports (with fingerprint images) will go ahead from the end of June after the European Parliament finally agreed to the proposal. This means that all states of the EU will now have to construct new databases of fingerprints for the entire population (including the UK and Ireland who, although outside the Schengen agreement on internal borders, voluntarily follow the same passport standards).
The Parliament did manage to introduce one major ammendment which rejected the European Commission’s plan to have children under 12 years-old fingerprinted as well – although some countries already do this. However, this vote was a rubber-stamping exercise by a ineffectual body.
The unreliability of fingerprint identification, which is mentioned in this report by PC Worldremains a major issue. Having talked to European Commission people at many different events, my general opinion of them is that, whilst well-meaning, they are seriously lacking technological expertise and knowledge of the research in the area, and generally fail to listen to those who know except where they will confirm their existing opinions. Like most governments.