More than 5m people have their DNA profiles stored on a national police database even though the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the retention of records for people who are innocent of any crime.
As many as 1m people on the database – the largest of its kind in the world – have not been convicted or have spent convictions, leading the European court to rule that the regime was breaching their human rights.
The disclosure that thousands of people are still having their records added will intensify criticism of the Home Office, which has been accused of dragging its feet in responding to the European ruling.
A parliamentary answer provided to the Tories on Tuesday by Alan Campbell, a Home Office minister, showed that a total of 5.9m records were now held in England and Wales, up from 5.6m a few months ago. Accounting for duplicates, the database is thought to hold more than 5m individual records, almost equivalent to one in 10 of the population.
James Brokenshire, a shadow Home Office minister, said: “The government has been obsessed with growing the DNA database for the sake of it regardless of guilt or innocence. Despite being told that their approach is unlawful they have been dragging their feet about doing anything about it.”
The government and police commanders argue that the database is a vital tool. DNA matches helped to solve 390,000 crimes between April 1998 and September 2008.
However, a recent report shows that DNA-related detections are falling every year. They hit a peak of 41,148 in 2006-07 and then declined to 33,034 in 2007-08 and to 31,915 in 2008-09.
The Conservatives have made the dismantling of the so-called “database state” a manifesto commitment and promise to scrap Labour’s ID card scheme.
On the DNA database, the Tories have announced that they would adopt a system similar to that used in Scotland where the profiles of those not convicted of an offence would only be retained for those people accused of violent or sexual crimes, and then for no more than three years.
The current system, which was deemed unlawful by the Equality and Human Rights Commission following the European ruling, allows police to hold DNA profiles indefinitely, regardless of convictions or the severity of the crime.
In the wake of the ruling, the Home Office proposed introducing a 12-year time limit on records kept for those arrested of serious crimes but not found guilty, and a six-year limit for lesser offences. However, it has since said it will revise those proposals in time for next month’s Queen’s Speech, after they faced considerable opposition from lawyers, civil rights groups and the EHRC.