The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has called for more control to be exerted over the controversial police DNA database.
The organisation's Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear? report published yesterday said that, although DNA is important in criminal investigations, it may not be necessary to hold profiles on a central database.
The HGC also warned that the database had come into being through piecemeal development and desperately needed regulation and supervision.
"DNA evidence plays a significant role in bringing criminals before the courts and securing convictions. But it is not clear how far holding DNA profiles on a central database improves police investigations," said HGC chairman professor Jonathan Montgomery.
"We have to strike a proper balance between identifying offenders and protecting privacy, including that of innocent people. We should not compromise that privacy without good reason."
Police forces currently have the right to collect DNA evidence and keep it regardless of the outcome of a criminal investigation. The HGC said that this means the system should be carefully controlled to keep DNA collection at appropriate levels.
"Parliament has never formally debated the establishment of the National DNA Database and safeguards around it. It has developed through amendments to laws designed to regulate the taking of fingerprints and physical evidence before DNA profiling was developed," said professor Montgomery.
"In the mean time there has been a steady 'function creep', allowing more and more people's DNA to be kept. But it is not clear that this is matched by an improvement in securing convictions. There needs to be a regular review of the positive value we get from the database, i.e. its 'forensic utility'."
The HGC believes that the database's forensic abilities are yet to be proved, and that it should be scrutinised more closely before it is allocated any more funding.
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