The Home Secretary’s plan to retain the DNA of people charged but then cleared of offences may breach human rights law, a group of MPs and peers have said.
A “catch-all” discretionary power to allow police to hold the DNA of innocent people indefinitely for reasons of “national security” should also be scrapped, the Joint Committee on Human Rights [JCHR] said.
Its report on the Protection of Freedoms Bill, due to proceed through its remaining stages next week, said proposals on DNA retention should be reconsidered.
Theresa May has said the plans to curb the state’s right to intrude in private lives would see the names of one million innocent people removed from the DNA database. Only adults convicted or cautioned would have their DNA stored indefinitely, while those charged but later cleared would have their profiles stored for up to five years.
But the committee said this would create “a significant risk of incompatibility with the right to a private life’’. The Bill would also “create a broad catch-all discretion for police to authorise the retention of material indefinitely for reasons of national security’’. “We are concerned that the minister has not provided a justification of why this power is necessary and proportionate, particularly in light of specific measures targeted towards retention in relation to counter-terrorism and immigration,’’ the report said.
“Without further justification or additional safeguards, these measures should be removed from the Bill.’’
Dr Hywel Francis, the chairman of the committee, said: “Retention of this type of sensitive material must be governed by a clear statutory framework which limits retention to circumstances which are justified in the interests of the prevention and detection of crime.
“Unfortunately, the Government’s current proposals for a catch-all discretion for police to retain material for undefined reasons of national security does not appear to meet that standard.’’
The committee added that Nick Clegg’s flagship legislation, intended to limit powers of entry to individuals’ homes and protect civil liberties, could actually make it easier for the state to invade privacy by giving officials more power.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s proposals, contained within the Bill, would give ministers a discretionary power to “rewrite” rules of entry at will — which ministers say they would use to curb officials’ rights of entry. There are currently about 1,200 separate legal powers of entry, from serving from court warrants to protecting trademarks.
But, having questioned ministers, the committee warned that, if passed, the Bill would actually give the Government an unacceptable freedom to extend officials’ ability to enter homes.
The committee said it was “very concerned” that a Bill supposed to safeguard individual liberties “may be used to extend existing powers of entry and to create a new risk to the right to respect for private life”,
Dr Francis said: “The proposals in the Bill are overly broad and give ministers carte blanche to change powers of entry as they see fit.” He said the powers needed to be limited “to provide real protection for individual privacy”.
Dr Francis concluded: “The Protection of Freedoms Bill goes some way to enhance legal protection of human rights and civil liberties by removing or repealing provisions which the JCHR had previously criticised. However, there are a number of ways in which it could go further.’’
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