By Dr John Bahadur Lamb

Officially known as the National Criminal Intelligence DNA Database, this resource was set up in 1995 to provide the police, border and intelligence services with a means of storing DNA of both known offenders and that found at crime scenes.

It has proved an invaluable tool in the fight against crime and terrorism as it has allowed the police to link individuals to both locations where crimes have taken place and to crimes which are often decades old. Perhaps the most public success of the database was its use to prove blood found on Gary Dobson’s jacket was Stephen Lawrence’s thus ensuring his conviction for murder nearly ten years after the event.

However, the database has also been mired in controversy. DNA samples are often collected from people as they are charged and these are entered into the database. Yet, charge does not automatically mean guilt on the part of the defendant and so a large number of the entries are from innocent individuals. Originally, as were all samples, these were stored indefinitely.

In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the indefinite storing of samples, from both innocent parties, was illegal. This means that innocent samples are now routinely deleted as  the time period of 6 to 12 years  runs out. Those convicted still have their data retained permanently.

Putting aside the issues of privacy and innocent until proven guilty the use of the database in this way raises difficult questions for those attempting to counter terrorism.

Counter terrorism cases add yet another set of rules to the already complicated retention or deletion process outlined above. Terrorist suspect profiles are subject to the same rules above but can also be retained should a national security determination be made by a senior officer.

However these determinations have to be made within a very limited time frame and failure to do so has seen at least 810 suspected terrorist profiles automatically deleted from the database recently.

Such an oversight is a glaring error and will inevitably lead to a wholesale review of the processes in place. The removal of these profiles significantly weakens the UKs security as it stops the police being able to quickly compare evidence against known individuals. At best this will slow down investigations and at worst it could actually allow individuals to carry out an attack where previously they would have been caught.