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A controversial EU data-sharing treaty could see police forces across the EU given open access to our DNA database. Police in every member state would have the power to acquire the DNA of potentially innocent Britons as they would be allowed to check crime scene samples against the millions of profiles held in the UK, which has the largest DNA database in the world. (Britain has over five million DNA profiles on its database, of which a million are profiles of innocent people.) These proposals being pushed forward by the Coalition are not only an affront to civil liberties and our criminal justice system; the practicalities of the arrangements are also riddled with worrying ineptitude.
The treaty not only sets a terrible precedent for our civil liberties (we have written about the problems with our mammoth DNA database here and here) but is also an assault to British traditions of justice and would undermine our policing system further. Police would be able to check a DNA profile regardless of whether the alleged offence is even a crime in this country. The Conservative party condemned the treaty in opposition, cautioning against the possibility of British citizens being party to miscarriages of justice, yet in an apparent (and unfortunately all too familiar) u-turn, are now supporting the proposals and planning to start sharing details in 2015.
One of the most ominous outcomes of this Treaty would be the likelihood of British citizens being wrongly accused and wrongly extradited to face trial abroad. The EU arrangements for checks are not nearly stringent or thorough enough; the project requires considerably lower accuracy in DNA matches, with some research showing that up to two thirds of checks could be ‘false positives’, in which an innocent person is wrongly identified as a match. In the UK, a DNA profile can only be matched to a sample if it passes ten distinct tests. The EU proposals would set significantly lower standards, however, with just six checks requisite. This would mean there being a strong possibility of ‘false positives’. A test conducted in the Netherlands found that out of 81 matches with six checks, there was a staggering 67% error rate. Adding just one more check to make the total seven saw a drop to just 5% false positives.
In addition to the effects the Prum Treaty holds for our judicial and criminal sovereignty, it is thus also evident that the proposals are not even nearly up to a high enough standard. Considering the importance courts place on DNA evidence, this is particularly ominous. It could mean a proliferation of cases such as Peter Hamkin’s. In 2002, he was incorrectly arrested for the murder of an Italian woman in Tuscany because of a false positive match despite never having been Italy. His extradition process was only stopped after a second DNA test established his innocence.
It is still possible to stop this process and opt-out of the Prum proposals. As Dominic Raab has said ‘if we opt in (to) a 67 per cent error rate under the EU scheme, more and more UK citizens risk finding themselves mistakenly dragged into criminal investigations abroad.’
In 2014 the UK has the option to regain control of 130 laws including the data sharing scheme. It is clear that Britain has not lost out from exclusion of the European wide data sharing regime, and that there is no place for such a needless, invasive and ineffective system in the UK. Our control of crime and policing is already dominated by the EU and ECHR; let’s hope that the Coalition sees sense and retains (or perhaps it should be regains) our freedoms – of the individual over their data and of our criminal and policing systems from the EU.
By Stephanie Lis
- Freedom in the City on 22nd May with JP Floru on May 22, 2013 12:30 pm
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
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