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DNA database – most serious threat to race relations

Matilda-MacAttram2The DNA database poses most serious threat to race relations to date, says Matilda MacAttram

The National Criminal DNA database (DNAD) has effectively criminalised Britain’s Black communities, creating a climate of distrust in both law enforcement and crime prevention agencies.

The NDNAD was established in 1995 and introduced by the Home Office as a tool for the police to store the DNA of convicted criminals, through the Home Office DNA Expansion programme in 1999.

Legislative changes over the last ten years have enabled the Home Office to amass over 5.1 million DNA profiles, making the UK’s DNA database the largest database (per capita) in the world.

At least a million innocent people who have been arrested in England, Wales or Northern Ireland have their DNA stored on this system.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Government’s current practice of retaining innocent DNA for 100 years was unlawful.

This has forced the Home Office to review its current retention policy of holding onto innocent DNA, and was viewed as an opportunity to inform the public about this system is managed.

The decision to omit publicising this consultation, or the issue of the DNAD among minority groups, resulted in an absence of BME voluntary sector organisations and key agencies within from African and Caribbean engaging with this process.

This has reinforced the perception that the DNA database is an attempt to criminalise this group by stealth.

The numbers of innocent people from Britain’s black communities profiled on this database far outstrips that of any other group.

Home office statistics show that 27% of the entire black population are profiled on the database compared with 9% of all Asians and 6% of the white people.

Criminal profiling of this community has led to 77% of all young black men and 42% of the entire black male population having their DNA stored on this system. The purpose of retaining anyone’s DNA profile on this database is to treat them as a suspect for any future crime.

These profiles can be used to track an individual or their relatives, and the samples contain unlimited genetic information including propensities for future health conditions.

With at least one member of every family from this community currently profiled on this system, there is a growing realisation among equalities and human rights agencies, that this crime preventing tool has effectively criminalised Black Britain.

Children have not fared any better with this new technology. Close to one out of four black children (23% ) compared to one out of ten white children (10%) are on the DNAD.

The father of the genetic fingerprint, Sir Alec Jeffrey’s comment on the 25 anniversary of the discovery of DNA sums up the feeling of the community well. He said: “My genome is my property. It is not the states’. I will allow the state access to that genome under very strict circumstances.

“It is an issue of my personal genetic privacy. I have met some [innocent] people who are on the database and are really distressed by the fact. They feel branded as criminals and I would feel branded as a criminal.”

We at Black Mental Health UK see the retention of innocent DNA on a criminal database as criminal.

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