Guidelines for UK police chiefs on applications to retain & use biometric material
The UK’s National DNA Database Strategy Board has published guidelines for chief police officers when deciding whether to make an application to the biometrics commissioner for the retention and use of biometric material.
Falling under section 63G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the guidelines are intended to protect the rights of innocent UK citizens arrested in the course of an investigation, particularly in relation to their DNA profiles or fingerprints.
According to the eight-page “Applications to the Biometrics Commissioner under PACE” document, the previous legislation allowed police to retain indefinitely DNA profiles and fingerprints taken from people who were arrested but never charged with any offense.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA) updated this law, ensuring that law enforcement no longer have the power to retain DNA profiles or fingerprints in these situations.
In an effort to protect the rights of innocent UK citizens arrested in the course of an investigation, their DNA profiles and fingerprints are now typically deleted after a ruling has been made on the person not being charged so long as they have no prior convictions that would warrant the retention of their profile.
However, people with no prior convictions who are arrested for a crime but not charged, and then later commit further offenses, may remain unidentified as a result of their biometric data no longer being in the national database. This would obviously affect the police’s ability to prevent and detect crime in the future.
To resolve this issue, the PoFA has introduced a new rule in special cases where chief officers of police can apply for the DNA profile and/or fingerprints taken from a person arrested but not charged with an offence to be kept for three years from the date the biometric data was collected or from the date of arrest, if no biometric data was taken on arrest.
Such applications are made under section 63G of PACE to biometric commissioner Alastair R MacGregor QC, who acts as an independent authority of the UK government in reviewing the retention and use by the police of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints.