22 December 2008
The ruling was welcomed by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, who in their 2007 report The Forensic Use of Bioinformation: ethical issues (see previous news) cautioned against the storage of such information when the alleged offences are minor, or individuals are not ultimately charged or convicted (see press release). The case highlights the sensitivity of retaining DNA samples and data rather than fingerprints, and both the case and the report by the Nuffield Council draw distinctions between the ethical issues raised by the storage of fingerprint data, digitised DNA profiles and biological samples. The ECHR noted that the latter two categories have a stronger potential for future use of personal information than fingerprint information, and are capable of being used "as a means of identifying genetic relationships between individuals" and as such "their retention interferes with the right to the private life of the individuals concerned".
In response to this ruling, the UK Home Secretary has announced the publication of a White Paper on forensics in 2009, with the aim of creating a more proportionate and effective system of retention. The Government have also announced the immediate withdrawal of samples from children aged under 10 years from the database (around 70 samples). The Human Genetics Commission is currently involved in a project aiming to form recommendations on issues relating to the National DNA Database for England and Wales and the Scottish forensic database; the Scottish database differs in that, DNA of unconvicted persons is only retained in the case of adults charged with violent or sexual offences and even then, only for three years, extendable for two more years following consent from a sheriff.