The inventor of genetic fingerprinting, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, today warns that the government is putting at risk public support for the DNA national database by holding the genetic details of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
Jeffreys, whose pioneering discoveries revolutionised police investigation techniques, condemned the government for leaving innocent people “branded as criminals” by its insistence on keeping the details of everyone arrested, regardless of whether they are later convicted.
He said he was left “almost speechless” by reports that the government planned to respond to a recent European court ruling – that storing innocent people’s genetic details broke their right to privacy – by simply removing their profiles from the database but keeping the original DNA samples.
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In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “I have significant concerns there [about the size of the database]. That database is currently populated by an unknown number of entirely innocent people. It is not possible to get an accurate number but it appears to be hundreds of thousands.
“My view is very clear that if you have been convicted of a crime then you owe it to society to be retained on that database for catching in the future should you reoffend. But the retention of entirely innocent people is a whole different issue. There is a sort of presumption here that if they haven’t committed any crime now, then they will in the future.”
He also called for improved genetic testing procedures, warning that the current system could result in a miscarriage of justice.