Revealed: Home Office giving public's DNA to private companies

The DNA is being used by provate firms without individual consent
The DNA is being used by provate firms without individual consent

The Home Office has been passing on the public's DNA to commercial companies, sometimes for what appears to constitute ethnic profiling.

A freedom of information request from the Liberal Democrats has revealed the Home Office accepted 25 out of 45 requests for the DNA from various organisations, including commercial companies.

Two of the authorisations - both for the Forensic Science Service (FSS) - involve requests described by the Lib Dems as "sinister explorations into ethnic profiling".

The first is described by the Home Office as: "Requested release of 500 samples from each race group to be. used in the race prediction system."


The second authorises "the use of samples taken under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) for creating frequency database for Y-STRs [a short tandem repeat on the Y chromosome often used in genealogical DNA testing] and using the data to create a database for ethnic appearance".

The FSS was approached for comment by politics.co.uk but they did not reply.

"For nearly a decade, the Home Office has been secretly approving controversial research projects using profiles from the DNA database," said Liberal Democrat MP, Jenny Willott.

"No consent was ever sought from the people involved, many of whom have never been charged or convicted of any offence."

Five of the 25 authorised requests are from out-and-out private companies LGC and Orchid Cellmark. The FSS, which requested the ethnic data, is a government owned private company, meaning all its shares are owned by the Home Office.

Interestingly, the police - many of whom have voluntarily added themselves to the database - rejected a request for their DNA to be used in a research project. No other individual on the database - many of whom were never charged or were later found innocent - was given the opportunity to reject the requests.

"It is appalling that these 'big brother' practices have been allowed to go on unchecked for so long and with extremely limited ethical standards," Ms Willott continued.

"Unless the government comes clean about exactly what they are using profiles for, this highly dubious ethical practice of dishing DNA out for research must be suspended immediately."

The National Police Improvement Agency (NIPA) said all the information had been kept anonymous.

"These are completely anonymous profiles which are not identifiable in any way," said a spokesperson.

"They were made available for authorised research purposes demonstrating, clear, potential operational benefit to the police in terms of detecting and solving crime."

But Phil Booth, national coordinator for No2ID, said sharing the information broke all the rules.

"The use of people's DNA without their knowledge or consent breaks all ethical and moral standards for research," he told politics.co.uk.

"That it was done for profit compounds the offence. And keeping it secret all this time shows that the people in charge knew it was wrong.

"Ethnic profiling and familial searching are highly controversial. This goes way beyond straightforward crime detection - and with so many innocent people, including children, held on the database the potential for lasting harm can only increase," he added.

The revelation follows a warning from the Ethics Committee, a government-appointed advisory body, last week about the retention of of people's DNA who had not been charged or convicted. The committee questioned whether the government should keep their DNA samples and said it may be a breach of human rights law.

Comments

Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.