Ministers' decision to keep the profiles of more than 800,000 innocent people on the national DNA database for the next six to 12 years threatens the use of genetic fingerprinting to solve serious crimes, Sir Alec Jeffreys warned last week.
The inventor of DNA fingerprinting, which has transformed forensic investigations, told the Observer that police retention of profiles - even those belonging to people never charged with any crime - had created intense grievance.
"I am getting lots of emails from innocent people whose profiles are kept on the database. I have also met many of them," said Jeffreys. "There is real upset out there. Some people are seriously distressed. They feel they are being branded as criminals when they are innocent."
In the past, Jeffreys said, people had been willing to give samples to help hunt down rapists and murderers. These included the 4,000 men who volunteered blood in 1987 as part of a police search that led to the conviction of Colin Pitchfork - the first person to be convicted of murder based on DNA evidence.
Today many potential volunteers would refuse to co-operate, Jeffreys said, because it was likely their DNA profiles would be kept by police for years to come. "This is compromising the use of DNA profiles," added Jeffreys. "Certainly, if I was asked now to give a blood sample to help solve a crime, I would have serious doubts about supplying it."
The national DNA database contains the profiles of more than 5 million individuals, the largest in the world per head of population. But last December the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the "blanket and indiscriminate" inclusion of 857,000 innocent citizens' profiles. As a result, the Home Office announced in April that it would remove these profiles, a move that was welcomed by civil liberties groups - until it emerged the government would not start the procedure for another six to 12 years. This revelation outraged many organisations and individuals, including Jeffreys.
"The government - having invested all this money putting 800,000-plus innocent people on the database - seems determined to keep that information for as long as they possibly can, rather than putting their hands up and admitting this is morally wrong," he said. "DNA profiles carry familial information. They reveal a person's biological relationship with others. Storing that data, from innocent people, is a straight violation of their rights to have private family lives."
The police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - but not Scotland, which has a less draconian system for retaining profiles - say individuals can apply to have their DNA taken off the database. But Jeffreys ridiculed this idea: "You can write to your chief constable, but you will get a standard letter back saying your circumstances are not exceptional or appropriate. You try telling that to a kid who has just been busted for nicking 50p worth of Smarties."
However, Jeffreys stressed his criticisms were directed mainly at politicians, not at the police. "The police have got this fantastic tool and they will do whatever the legislation allows. Politicians are the ones to blame. However, I have spoken to several senior policemen over the past few years, and I get the feeling they are starting to get uneasy about having innocent people on the database - that the blanket approach of grabbing just about anybody off the streets and putting them on the database may not lead to the greatest sympathy from the public."
Monday, June 15, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
In this day and age, we all have to be careful about how we share information online. Browsing the Web is the single most popular activity on the PC with both the time people spend on the Web and the range of things they can do continuing to grow.
With social networking sites, online shopping, and online banking becoming more common and convenient, the risk of fraud or identity theft continues to grow. This kind of activity is on the rise every year.
This doesn't mean that you can't surf safely online. Quite the contrary, you just need to follow a few simple guidelines to protect yourself and your family and create a safe and enjoyable experience. And given that June marks Internet Safety Month, it's a good time to think about how best to educate yourself and your loved ones on both the risks out there, and the simple ways to prevent them.
"Consumers really need to be proactive in the fight against cyber crime. Staying safe online is a combination of using the latest and greatest security software tools and exercising good judgment and common sense," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
In honor of Internet Safety Month, here are eight tips to help keep you, your family and your personal information safe online: 1. Manage your e-mail inbox. Delete unwanted and unsolicited email and don't open e-mails from people you don't know. Be cautious about unusual e-mail from people you do know. Some cyber criminals use software to make an e-mail look like it comes from an official organization (like your bank) or someone you know.
2. Always think before you click and treat links and attachments in e-mail and instant messaging with caution. Download files only from sites you know and trust and never open an attachment from someone you don't know. These can contain viruses and malware that can cause your computer to break down or is an attempt to steal personal information. If in doubt, delete it.
3. Use extreme caution when working on a public computer; Do not save your log in information, always log out of Web sites by clicking "log out" on the site (even if you are just stepping away for a few minutes), and never enter sensitive or personal information on a public computer.
4. Be sure your firewall is turned on. A firewall is an electronic fence that helps protect your PC from hackers that may try to steal sensitive information. To turn on your firewall, simply click the start button and open the control panel. Follow the security link and then click 'Turn Windows Firewall on or off.'
5. Protect personal information by using strong passwords. Make sure they are lengthy and incorporate letters, numbers and symbols.
6. When shopping online, be a savvy consumer. Conduct online research to find out what others have to say about their customer satisfaction. Be wary of companies that don't provide any contact information, including a physical mailing address and telephone number. 7. The best way to protect yourself is to keep your security software, operating system and browser up-to-date with automatic updates and practice safe online behavior.
8. New security, privacy and reliability features tools in Internet Explorer 8 can provide you with a more secure Internet experience. It's worth considering downloading it for free. Internet Explorer 8 puts you in control of your safety and privacy online and helps protect you from new threats online.