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Principle of innocent until guilty is in our DNA

Me-on-the-podium-close-upBritain’s creeping surveillance state risks fracturing the trust between citizen and state, making it harder to fight crime, the Lib Dem conference was told

Delegate Lester Holloway, from Sutton in Surrey, said that the massive expansion of the DNA database – with cops ‘harvesting’ as much DNA as they possibly could from Britain’s Black communities – had hampered their ability to conduct intelligence-led policing.

Speaking in a conference debate on civil liberties, Holloway warned that the tensions brought about by a ratcheting-up of stop and search, and the mass collection of DNA, was a precursor to what could happen in wider society unless the surveillance state was checked.

He said: ‘If the government had declared its intentions, in 1999 when the DNA database was set up, that they wanted to harvest the DNA from every citizen they could get their hands on, there would have been uproar. So they did it by stealth.

‘The database is not just about criminals – the majority of people on it are innocent. Clearly, the DNA database is for the many, not the few. Yes, we want crime prevention, but we need to move away from an implication that we are all criminals until proven otherwise.’

Shami Chakrabarti and Nick Clegg

Shami Chakrabarti and Nick Clegg in conversation

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, speaking alongside Shami Chakrabarti of campaign group Liberty at a fringe event, said that his party would continue to fight for freedom, and against an oppressive state, and reaffirmed his commitment to defend the Human Rights Act.

He said: ‘The Tories have been fairweather friends, ducking and weaving on civil liberties. They say they’re for civil liberties, but duck out of tough issues like control orders [used against suspected terrorists who have not been convicted of any crime]’.

Chakrabarti praised the Lib Dems for voting to outlaw the “mosquito device”, a piece of technology being installed outside shops and train stations that emits a high-pitched noise that only the ear-drums of young people can hear. It is known to induce intensive headaches in some young people.

But Chakrabarti looked disappointed that Clegg side-stepped her question on whether his commitment to the Human Rights Act was a “deal-breaker” if the Lib Dems were in a position to enter a coalition government. Clegg said the Lib Dems were not a “one trick pony”, and cared about lots of different issues.

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