European Court Rules that British DNA Databases Violate Privacy


The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that British police effort to collect and retain DNA information from people not convicted of any crime violates their privacy rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

As the Associated Press reports:

Europe's top human rights court Thursday struck down a British law that allows the government to store DNA and fingerprints from people with no criminal record — a landmark decision that could force Britain to destroy nearly 1 million samples on its database.

Rights groups say the ruling could have even wider implications for the storage of other sensitive and personal data.

The case originated when British police refused to destroy DNA samples of two Britons whose criminal cases were dropped.

The European Court of Human Rights' ruled unanimously that keeping DNA samples and fingerprints was in violation of people's right to a private life — a protection under the Human Rights Convention to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. It also criticized Britain's use of "blanket and indiscriminate" storage.

Britain cannot appeal the ruling. It has until March to submit plans for destroying samples or to make a case for why some should be kept. Many European countries allow for temporary storage of DNA in sex crimes or other offenses but samples are usually destroyed after the cases are closed…

Britain has one of the world's largest DNA databases with more than 4.5 million samples, usually collected with a cheek swab.

In England and Wales, more than 850,000 DNA samples from people with no criminal record are stored on a national database. Samples have come from anyone who has been arrested, regardless whether they were charged, convicted or acquitted. Even the DNA of crime victims has been stored on occasion.

Privacy International said the ruling provides a benchmark for collecting data from innocent people — a ruling that could challenge Britain's plans for a database containing DNA samples of children, for a national identity register and for storing sensitive personal information such as financial or health details.

"The entire legal underpinning of Britain's surveillance state has now collapsed," said Simon Davies with Privacy International.

DNA databases are also expanding in the United States, with many states collecting and retaining DNA information from all arrestees. reason reporting on DNA databases and privacy here and here