No doubt many people, like the GOS, rejoiced to hear this piece of news …
The Government's high-profile national DNA database was in tatters today after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. In an unprecedented move, judges decided that keeping samples of people with no criminal convictions on file is a breach of their human rights.
The verdict could force the Government to remove the DNA details of hundreds of thousands of Britons from the current total of about 4.5 million held on the England, Wales and Northern Ireland database. Scotland already destroys DNA samples taken during criminal investigations from people who are not charged or who are later acquitted of alleged offences.
Today the Strasbourg judges said keeping the DNA of innocent people on a criminal register amounted to discrimination and a breach of the 'right to respect for private life' safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention. The result is a victory for two Britons who have been fighting to change the law after police insisted on retaining their DNA records.
Michael Marper, 45, was arrested in March 2001 and charged with harassing his partner, but the case was dropped three months later after the two were reconciled. He had no previous convictions. In a separate case, a 19-year-old named in court only as 'S' was arrested and charged with attempted robbery in January 2001 when he was 12, but he was cleared five months later. The men, both from Sheffield, asked that their fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles be destroyed. South Yorkshire Police refused, saying the details would be retained 'to aid criminal investigation'.
The men's claims were later thrown out by the House of Lords, which ruled that keeping the information was not illegal under the Criminal Justice and Police Act, and did not breach human rights. But earlier this year, when the cases came before the Human Rights Court, lawyers for the two men argued that keeping the DNA of innocent citizens left them under a cloud of suspicion.
It violated their 'right to respect for private life' and 'prohibition of discrimination' safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention, to which the UK is a signatory. Today's ruling raises major questions about how DNA is collected and stored by the police. At the moment, officers can take a sample from anyone they arrest, even if no charges are brought.
But the court ruled that this process breaches their human rights, specifically the right to a private family life. The ruling could force ministers to remove the profiles of everyone arrested but not charged from the national database - believed to be 850,000 people.
The Home Office says the database is a 'key intelligence tool' and points to the prosecutions that would not have been solved without it. Some even argue that everyone's DNA should be held on record, on the basis that the innocent have nothing to fear. But human rights groups maintain that holding innocent people's personal information breaches their rights, and today's ruling is strongly in their favour."
No2ID report that nevertheless the Home Secretary has said the existing arrangements will remain in place for the time being, while ministers consider the "implications" of the ruling.
Before we get too carried away about the "implications", consider this article in the Independent by their law editor Robert Verkaik …
Personal information detailing intimate aspects of the lives of every British citizen is to be handed over to government agencies under sweeping new powers. The measure, which will give ministers the right to allow all public bodies to exchange sensitive data with each other, is expected to be rushed through Parliament in a Bill to be published tomorrow.
The new legislation would deny MPs a full vote on such data-sharing. Instead, ministers could authorise the swapping of information between councils, the police, NHS trusts, the Inland Revenue, education authorities, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions and other ministries.
Opponents of the move accused the Government of bringing in by stealth a data-sharing programme that exposed everyone to the dangers of a Big Brother state and one of the most intrusive personal databases in the world. The new law would remove the right to protection against misuse of information by thousands of unaccountable civil servants, they added.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said he believed Britain had gone too far in helping to bring about a "surveillance society". In a report drawing on personal data infringements across Europe but "inspired" by Britain's plan for a new internet, email and telephone database, he added: "General surveillance raises serious democratic problems which are not answered by the repeated assertion that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. This puts the onus in the wrong place: it should be for states to justify the interferences they seek to make on privacy rights."
He said he was "very worried about the downgrading of the protections of personal information", adding: "Of course there has to be a balance to be struck. At the moment we have not got it right."
David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, added: "The Government shouldn't try to sneak through further building blocks of its surveillance state. Unrestricted data-sharing simply increases the risks of data loss. This is particularly troubling since the Government has already shown itself entirely incapable of keeping our personal data safe."
The data-sharing measure is referred to in the Coroners and Justice Bill outlined in yesterday's Queen's Speech. It could, for instance, pave the way for medical records to be sent to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to identify drivers who pose a health risk, or school attendance data being handed to the Department for Work and Pensions to verify social security claims made by parents.
But civil rights groups warned that the possibility of public records being transferred to private companies on a minister's whim was of even greater concern. Under the existing system, public bodies require primary legislation to authorise the transfer of data to another agency. The new plans would end such parliamentary scrutiny by permitting ministers to use secondary legislation without a full vote of MPs. The Bill sets out how ministers would be able to sidestep data protection and human rights laws that prevent public bodies revealing private information.
NO2ID, a group which campaigned against government plans for ID cards and the associated National Identity Register, said the proposals went far beyond data protection and were intended "to build the database state, concealed under a misleading name". The group's national co-ordinator, Phil Booth, said: "This is a Bill to smash the rule of law and build the database state in its place. Burying sweeping constitutional change in obscure Bills is an appalling approach. Having proved - and admitted - they cannot be trusted to look after our secrets, they are still determined to steal what privacy we have left. Parliament needs to wake up before it has no say any more."
Civil liberties groups said the new powers could be used in conjunction with the equally controversial plan for a giant database holding details of people's emails, telephone calls and internet searches. The Communications Data Bill, which would contain this information, was set for inclusion in yesterday's Queen's Speech but will now be part of a consultation paper to be published in January.
Mr Hammarberg said Britain's poor record on data loss had led to an EU-wide debate about the dangers of a surveillance society. He added: "Data protection is crucial to the upholding of fundamental democratic values: a surveillance society risks infringing this basic right."
The Ministry of Justice said data-sharing was essential for the delivery of "efficient and effective public services, tackling crime and protecting the public". "Any draft order would require parliamentary approval and a privacy impact assessment," said a spokesman. "Additionally, the Information Commissioner would have been invited to comment on the proposals. This will ensure any potential privacy issues and risks are identified and examined.
The power will be exercised only in circumstances where the sharing of the information is in the public interest and proportionate to the impact on any person adversely affected by it."
Only in circumstances where the sharing of the information is in the public interest. Yeah, right. Like the anti-terror legislation is only being used to defend us from violent extremists? Only today the local newspaper in Cambridge revealed that the council have used anti-terror legislation to spy on newspaper boys to see if they had the correct permits to work.
What's more, the council spokesman couldn't see that there was anything wrong in misusing the regulations in this way: "We're only enforcing the law", he said. Which is local authority-speak for "we can do as we damn well like and there's nothing you can do to stop us".
So the Stasi Labour Government marches forward, onwards and upwards towards its eventual goal of total domination over every waking moment and every waking thought of every British citizen.
And come to think of it, we may be a bit over-optimistic in our use of the word "waking".
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2008 The GOS
This site created and maintained by PlainSite