United Kingdom National DNA Database

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The United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD; officially the UK National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database) is a national DNA Database that was set up in 1995. As of the end of 2005, it carried the profiles of around 3.1 million people. In March 2012 the database contained an estimated 5,950,612 individuals. The database, which grows by 30,000 samples each month, is populated by samples recovered from crime scenes and taken from police suspects[1] and, in England and Wales, anyone arrested and detained at a police station.

Only patterns of short tandem repeats are stored in the NDNAD – not a person's full genomic sequence. Currently the ten loci of the SGM+ system are analysed, resulting in a string of 20 numbers, being two allele repeats from each of the ten loci. Amelogenin is used for a rapid test of a donor's sex.

However, individuals' skin or blood samples are also kept permanently linked to the database and can contain complete genetic information. Because DNA is inherited, the database can also be used to indirectly identify many others in the population related to a database subject. Stored samples can also degrade and become useless, particularly those taken with dry brushes and swabs.

The UK NDNAD is run by the Home Office, after transferring from the custodianship of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) on 1 October 2012. A major expansion to include all known active offenders was funded between April 2000 and March 2005 at a cost of over £300 million.[2][3]

Origin and function[edit]

The United Kingdom's National DNA Database (NDNAD) was set up in 1995 using the Second Generation Multiplex (SGM) DNA profiling system (SGM+ DNA profiling system since 1998). All data held on the National DNA Database is governed by a tri-partite board consisting of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Police Authorities (APA), there are also independent representatives present from the Human Genetics Commission. The data held on the NDNAD is owned by the police authority which submitted the sample for analysis. The samples are stored permanently by the companies that analyse them, for an annual fee.

All forensic service providers in the UK which meet the accredited standards can interact with the NDNAD. The UK's NDNAD is the foremost and largest forensic DNA database of its kind in the world – containing nearly 10% of the population, compared to 0.5% in the USA.[2]

The data held on the National DNA Database consists of both demographic sample data and the numerical DNA profile. Records on the NDNAD are held for both individuals sampled under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and for unsolved crime-stains (such as from blood, semen, saliva, hair and cellular materials left at a crime scene)

Whenever a new profile is submitted, the NDNAD's records are automatically searched for matches (hits) between individuals and unsolved crime-stain records and unsolved crime-stain to unsolved crime-stain records - linking both individuals to crimes and crimes to crimes. Matches between individuals only are reported separately for investigation as to whether one is an alias of the other. Any NDNAD hits obtained are reported directly to the police force which submitted the sample for analysis. The NDNAD is widely acknowledged as an intelligence tool, for its ability to aid in the solving of crimes, both past and present. However, its rapid growth in size in recent years has been controversial because there are only a few jurisdictions that allow the permanent retention of DNA from people who have not been convicted of any offence. One-off speculative intelligence searches can be initiated by scientists in instances where a crime-stain DNA profile does not meet the required standard for loading to the NDNAD. These searches can produce many matches which may be restricted by demographic data.

The latest innovative intelligence approach brought forward by the Forensic Science Service, is in the use of familial searching. This is a process that may be carried out in relation to unsolved crime-stains whereby a suspect's DNA may not be held on the NDNAD, but that of a close relative is. This method identifies potential relatives by identifying DNA profiles held on the NDNAD that are similar. Again many matches may be produced which may be restricted by demographic data. However, this technique raises new privacy concerns because it could lead to the police identifying cases of non-paternity.

Control transferred to the National Policing Improvement Agency in 2007[edit]

In April 2007, responsibility for the delivery of National DNA Database (NDNAD) services was transferred from the Home Office to the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).[4] The agency's role was to run the database operations and maintain and ensure the integrity of the data, and to oversee the National DNA Database service so that it is operated in line with agreed standards.[4]

Database subjects[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

Though initially only samples from convicted criminals, or people awaiting trial, were recorded, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 changed this to allow DNA to be retained from people charged with an offence, even if they were subsequently acquitted. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 later allowed DNA to be taken on arrest, rather than on charge. Since April 2004, when this law came into force, anyone arrested in England and Wales on suspicion of involvement in any recordable offence (all except the most minor offences) has their DNA sample taken and stored in the database, whether or not they are subsequently charged or convicted. In 2005-06 45,000 crimes were matched against records on the DNA Database; including 422 homicides (murders and manslaughters) and 645 rapes.[5] However, not all these matches will have led to criminal convictions and some will be matches with innocent people who were at the crime scene. Critics argue that the decision to keep large numbers of innocent people on the database does not appear to have increased the likelihood of solving a crime using DNA.[6]


The PFSLD houses the DNA database for Scotland, and exports copies to the National DNA Database in England.

Only samples from convicted criminals, or people awaiting trial, are recorded, although a new law will allow the DNA from people charged with a serious sexual or violent offence to be kept for up to five years after acquittal.

Isle of Man[edit]

Samples collected by the Isle of Man Constabulary's Scientific Support Department from crime scenes are sent to the UK for testing against the database. Samples from suspects are also added to the database, but are removed if the suspect is not convicted of the crime.

Channel Islands[edit]

Data supplied by the police of Jersey and Guernsey is also stored on the database.

Legal challenges[edit]

The issue of taking fingerprints and a DNA sample was involved in a case decided at the High Court on 23 March 2006. A teacher who was accused of assault won the right to have her DNA sample and fingerprints destroyed. They had been taken whilst she was in custody, but after the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to not pursue any charges against her. She should have been released expeditiously once this was the case and so her continued detention to obtain samples was unlawful, and thus the samples were taken "without appropriate authority".[7] Had they been taken before the decision not to prosecute, the samples would have been lawful and retained as normal.

European Court of Human Rights[edit]

The DNA Database's indefinite retention policy is to be curtailed following a test case filed by two claimants from Sheffield, Mr. S. and Michael Marper, both of whom had fingerprint records and DNA profiles held in the database. S and Marper were supported by the Liberty and Privacy International, non-profit pressure groups who were permitted to make amicus brief submissions to the court.

S. was a minor, at 11 years old, when he was arrested and charged with attempted robbery on 19 January 2001; he was acquitted a few months later, on 14 June 2001. Michael Marper was arrested on 13 March 2001, and charged with harassment of his partner; the charge was not pressed because Marper and his partner became reconciled before a pretrial review had taken place.

In November 2004 the Court of Appeal held that the keeping of samples from persons charged, yet not convicted - i.e. S and Marper - was lawful.[8] However, an appeal was made to the European Court of Human Rights and the case was heard on 27 February 2008. On 4 December 2008, 17 judges unanimously ruled that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which refers to a person's right to a private life, and awarded €42,000 each to the appellants.[9] The judges said keeping the information "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".[10]

In response to this the Home Office announced in May 2009 a consultation on how to comply with the ruling. The Home Office proposed to continue retaining indefinitely the DNA profiles of anyone convicted of any recordable offence, but to remove other profiles from the database after a period of time - generally 6 or 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the offence.[11] The practice of taking DNA profiles upon arrest is not affected by the decision. On April 2010 the Crime and Security Act 2010[12] established that DNA profiles and fingerprints of anyone convicted of a recordable offence will be stored permanently, while those obtained on arrest, even when no conviction follows, will be stored for 6 years, renewable on new arrests.[13]

On 18 May 2011 the UK supreme court also ruled, by a majority, that the present ACPO DNA retention guidelines are unlawful because they are incompatible with article 8 of the ECHR. However, not wishing to step on the toes of Parliament discussing the same issue, they grant no other relief.[14]

Finally on 1 May 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 received Royal Assent, bringing in a new framework for police retention of fingerprints and DNA data for innocents on NDNAD. Commencement orders are expected in September 2013, when UK Police forces should have finished deleting the DNA records and biometric samples of innocents they no longer can keep under the new legislation.

Privacy concerns[edit]

The UK DNA database is one of the world's largest, and has prompted concerns from some quarters as to its scope and usage. The database helps in solving crime and prosecuting runaway criminals years after the crime has been committed. Recordable offences include begging, being drunk and disorderly and taking part in an illegal demonstration. Many innocent people, including children from the age of ten are arrested but never charged, some for offences which later be proved to have been committed by another person. Changes in the powers of arrest granted to the police by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 have led to expectations of even more samples being added.

A further concern has been raised over the 24,000 samples held of children and young people aged from 10 to 18 who have never been convicted, cautioned or charged with any offence.[15] The use of the database for genetic research without consent has also been controversial, as has the storage of DNA samples and sensitive information by the commercial companies which analyse them for the police.[16]

Given the privacy issues, but set against the usefulness of the database in identifying offenders, some have argued for a system whereby the encrypted data associated with a sample is held by a third, trusted, party and is only revealed if a crime scene sample is found to contain that DNA. Such an approach has been advocated by the inventor of genetic fingerprinting, Alec Jeffreys.[17]

Others have argued that there should be time limits on how long DNA profiles can be retained on the Database, except for people convicted of serious violent or sexual offences. GeneWatch UK has launched a campaign calling on people to reclaim their DNA if they have not been charged or convicted of a serious offence, and has called for more safeguards to prevent misuse of the database.[18] The Human Genetics Commission has argued that individuals' DNA samples should be destroyed after the DNA profiles used for identification purposes have been obtained.

The Liberal Democrats believe that innocent people's DNA should not be held on the database indefinitely. They have launched a national online petition arguing that whilst they believe "DNA is a vital tool in the fight against crime, there is no legitimate reason for the police to retain for life the DNA records of innocent people."[19] They revealed figures in November 2007 showing that nearly 150,000 children under the age of 16 have their details on the database.[20]

The Conservative Party objects to the database on the grounds that Parliament has not been given the opportunity to vote on it. Damian Green, former Tory home affairs spokesman, issued a press release in January 2006 stating: "We do have concerns about the Government including on the database the DNA and fingerprints of completely innocent people.... If the Government wants a database which has the details of everyone, not just criminals, they should be honest about it and not construct it by stealth."[21] Mr Green now has his own DNA profile on the database having been arrested and subsequently released without charge on 27 November 2008.

A YouGov poll published on 4 December 2006, indicated that 48% of those interviewed disapproved of keeping DNA records of those who have not been charged with any crime, or who have been acquitted, with 37% in favour.[22]

In early 2007, five civil servants were arrested on charges of industrial espionage for allegedly stealing DNA information from the database and using it to establish a rival firm.[23]

In 2009 the Home Office was consulting on plans to extend the period of DNA retention to twelve years for serious crimes and six years for other crimes.[24] According to the official figures, enough searches (around 2.5 trillion by 2009) have been run on the NDNAD such that statistically at least two matches (a 1 in a trillion chance, under ideal conditions) should have arisen by chance. However, depending on factors such as the number of incomplete profiles and the presence of related individuals, the chance matches may actually be higher. However the official position is that no chance matches have occurred,[25] a position backed up by the fact that the majority of the searches will have been repeated, and that there are not 1 trillion unique DNA profiles on file.

In July 2009, a lawyer, Lorraine Elliot, was arrested on accusations of forgery which were quickly proven to be false. A DNA sample was taken from her and logged. She was cleared of the accusations a day later and exonerated. However, Mrs Elliot subsequently lost her job (even though she was completely innocent of any crime) when the fact that her DNA profile was stored on the national database was discovered during a subsequent work-related security check. In 2010 she was finally able to have her details removed from the database.[26]

Racial demographics and controversy[edit]

Census data and Home Office statistics indicate that almost 40% of black men have their DNA profile on the database compared to 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men.[1]

In July 2006, the Black Police Association has called for an inquiry into why the database holds details of 37% of black men but fewer than 10% of white men.[27]

In November 2006, similar concerns were raised by the Sunday Telegraph which found that three in four young black men were on the DNA database.[28]

According to the Sunday Telegraph, an estimated 135,000 black males aged 15 to 34 would have been added to the DNA database by April 2007, equivalent to 77 percent of the young black male population in England and Wales.[28]

By contrast, only 22 per cent of young white males, and six per cent of the general population, will be on the database.[28]

This figure was confirmed by the British Government’s own Human Genetics Commission 2009 report on the topic, titled Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Balancing individual rights and the public interest in the governance and use of the National DNA Database, which said that "the profiles of over three quarters of young black men between the ages of 18 and 35 are recorded." [29]

The most common explanation for the racial disparities has been accusations of police racism and racial bias, as evidenced by the reaction of the then chair of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz MP, in August 2009 who said that "Such disparity in the treatment of different ethnic groups is bound to lead to a disintegration of community relations and a lack of trust in the police force."[30]

These allegations have been denied by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), which used to run the National DNA database. According to the NPIA, the database is a successful tool in fighting crime and points out that “between April 09 and 28th January 2010 the National DNA Database produced 174 matches to murder, 468 to rapes and 27,168 to other crime scenes.” [31]

In addition, the NPIA says that the "National DNA Database continues to provide police with the most effective tool for the prevention and detection of crime since the development of fingerprint analysis over 100 years ago. Since 1998, more than 300,000 crimes have been detected with the aid of the Database, reassuring the public that offenders are more likely to be brought to justice." [31]

Tellingly, the NPIA points out that of all of the subject profiles retained on the DNA Database by ethnic appearance as at 16 October 2009, 77.57% were "White North European", 2.06% were "White South European," 7.83% were black, 5.67% were Asian, 0.82% were Middle Eastern, 0.69% were Chinese, Japanese or South East Asian, and 5.365 were unknown.[32]

These figures would indicate that whites still form a majority of the DNA database records, but that individual groups within ethnic communities have a disproportionate presence on the database relative to their numbers.

Potential expansion of database[edit]

The idea of expanding the database to cover the entire UK population has drawn some support as well strong criticism from experts such as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics,[33][34] but been rejected for the moment by the UK government as impractical and problematic for civil liberties. Supporters include Lord Justice Sedley and some police officers,[35] and Tony Blair said in 2006 that he could see no reason why the DNA of everyone should not ultimately be kept on record.[36] Opponents of the expansion include Reclaim Your DNA, backed by No2ID, GeneWatch and Liberty among others.[37] Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said in 2007 that a database for every man, woman and child in the country was "a chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse".[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "All UK 'must be on DNA database". BBC. 5 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  2. ^ a b "DNA Expansion Programme 2000–2005: Reporting achievement" (PDF). Home Office. October 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  3. ^ "The national DNA database" (PDF). Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. February 2006. postnote 258. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  4. ^ a b National Police Improvement Agency, NPIA and the DNA Database
  5. ^ The national DNA database, Home Office
  6. ^ "The DNA Expansion Programme: reporting real achievement?" (PDF). GeneWatch UK. February 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  7. ^ "Teacher wins police DNA battle". BBC News. 23 March 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "Police can keep suspects' DNA". BBC News. 12 September 2002. Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  9. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | DNA database 'breach of rights', BBC, Thursday, 4 December 2008.
  11. ^ "Time limits on innocent DNA data". BBC News. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  12. ^ "Crime and Security Act 2010". 
  13. ^ "Crime and Security Act 2010, Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples etc". 
  14. ^ "Supreme Court press summary of 18 May 2011 provided to assist in understanding the Court’s decision" (PDF). 
  15. ^ "Juveniles' DNA recording defended". BBC News. 21 January 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  16. ^ Barnett, Antony (16 July 2006). "Police DNA database 'is spiralling out of control'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "Privacy fears over DNA database". BBC News. 12 September 2002. Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  18. ^ GeneWatch UK - Home
  19. ^ Protect innocent people's DNA
  20. ^ Liberal Democrats : Almost 150,000 children on DNA database - Clegg
  21. ^ Damian Green /// MP for Ashford, shadow minister for immigration
  22. ^ Survey Report
  23. ^ "Five civil servants suspended over "DNA espionage'". Daily Mail (London). 31 March 2007. 
  24. ^ The Guardian, 19 July 2009, DNA database plans based on 'flawed science', warn experts
  25. ^ Brian Costello, Crimeline, Are DNA ‘cold hits’ resulting in miscarriages?
  26. ^ "Lawyer wins DNA database battle". BBC News. 9 June 2010. 
  27. ^ "Call for inquiry into DNA samples". BBC News. 5 January 2006. Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  28. ^ a b c Leapman, Ben (5 November 2006). "Three in four young black men on the DNA database". BBC News (London). Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  29. ^ Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Balancing individual rights and the public interest in the governance and use of the National DNA Database, Human Genetics Commission. November 2009
  30. ^ Doward, Jamie (9 August 2009). "'Racist bias' blamed for disparity in police DNA database". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2 July 2010. 
  31. ^ a b National Police Improvement Agency, The National DNA Database
  32. ^ National Police Improvement Agency, NDNAD by Ethnic Appearance
  33. ^ BBC, 18 September 2007, Experts call for DNA restrictions
  34. ^ Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 18 September 2007, The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues
  35. ^ BBC, 23 February 2008, Mandatory DNA database rejected
  36. ^ a b The Independent, 6 September 2007, A 'chilling' proposal for a universal DNA database
  37. ^ Reclaim Your DNA, About us

External links[edit]