The DNA Databse

Senior UK judge calls for everyone in the UK to have DNA entered into criminal database

James Corbett
Corbett Report

September 6, 2007

According to a BBC report today there are currently "no plans" by the UK government to store DNA samples of every man, woman and child in the UK in the national DNA database. This may come as relief to those who were concerned by yesterday's report that a senior UK judge had made just such a proposal. According to today's denial, the proposal is not being rejected because it represents a nightmare vision of total government surveillance that George Orwell himself would have been hard-pressed to imagine, but because the plan would create "huge logistical and bureaucratic issues," according to a spokesman for the Prime Minister. Lord Justice Sedley made his proposal amid ongoing debates about the UK DNA database, which is the largest in the world and includes over 4 million profiles, including 883,888 profiles of juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 and even 108 records of youths under 10.

The issue is far from decided, however. A Telegraph article on the subject underlines that the Home Office is taking radical expansion of the database seriously, including a push to ensure DNA is collected for every offence, even dropping litter on the street. Whether or not one supports the idea that those who drop a piece of paper on the ground should be forced thereupon to submit their very genetic material to the government for safekeeping, there may soon be no choice in the matter for anyone. The article quotes Tony McNulty, the UK security minister, as saying he is "broadly sympathetic" to Sedley's plan to create a mandatory national database and "we would never say never" to the idea.

Hard as it is to believe, Lord Justice Sedley's proposal is even more hare-brained than it would appear at first glance. Not only would the plan collect DNA samples from every single resident of the UK, it would collect samples from every visitor to the UK as well. The samples would presumably never be destroyed.

The idea is based on the absurdity of the current database system, in which those stopped by the police in England and Wales have their DNA taken and kept permanently on record. As Sedley pointed out in his original comments, this creates a system whereby those who have been stopped will forever have a genetic record on file with the government while those lucky enough not to have been stopped are free of the surveillance grid's clutches. This leads, as many have noted, to a system in which racial profiling ensures a larger percentage of ethnic minorities end up in the database than is demographically justified. Rather than admitting the absurdity of the database, however, Sedley's idea is to fail forward by saving the police the trouble of profiling at all—racial or otherwise—and simply letting the government assume that every single citizen, resident or visitor to the UK is a potential criminal who needs to have his or her genetic material kept on file forever.

Perhaps Britons, being responsible for Big Brother—both Orwell's and Channel 4's—have been completely desensitized to the police state noose which is coiling around their neck. Already being the victim of the most surveilled society in the western world and with a national id card looming on the horizon, one wonders if these latest reports will even capture the attention—let alone raise the ire—of the British public.