Concern over DNA data law

THE Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is concerned at new legislation proposing the retention of DNA data of innocent people for up to 10 years.

The DPC, Billy Hawkes, said the DNA data of people arrested, but subsequently not charged or acquitted, should be “immediately” destroyed.

Legislation published on Tuesday allows for the establishment of a national DNA database and the retention of DNA samples from those arrested on suspicion of a serious crime, those convicted, those already in prison and former offenders.

These samples and DNA profiles from those samples will be stored on a database, which will aid in detecting previous or future crimes.

Under the DNA Database Bill 2010, samples and profiles of those convicted of a serious crime can be held indefinitely.

Original proposals to extend this to people arrested, but not convicted, have been removed from the legislation following a landmark decision (Marper case) in the European Court of Human Rights in December 2008.

Instead, the new provisions state that DNA profiles of those arrested, but not convicted, can be held for up to 10 years, unless the person affected successfully applies to the Garda Commissioner, and, failing that, to the District Court, to have the data removed before then.

In a statement yesterday, a spokesman for the DPC said: “The commissioner continues to be concerned about the bill’s provisions in relation to the retention of DNA data.

“While retention of DNA data in respect of convicted persons may be considered a proportionate response to the social need to combat criminality, the retention of such personal information in respect of individuals who are innocent in the eyes of the law is difficult to justify.

“It would be preferable that where a person was not found guilty of any offence, DNA data should normally be destroyed immediately. This would be in line with the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission.”

The spokesman said the commissioner said the bill placed “many obstacles” in the way of an innocent individual seeking the destruction of their DNA data.

He added: “The commissioner hopes the data protection implications of the bill will be given full consideration by the Oireachtas.”

The spokesman said the commissioner “fully appreciates” the usefulness of DNA in providing evidence to support criminal prosecutions and welcomed the consultation with the DPC before publication.

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