Even if you were found innocent, even if you were never charged with a crime, the British government might still be holding your DNA. And that little cotton bud could help the government convict your child, sibling or parent of a crime. [Note: I’m not saying committing any kind of crime is okay. I’m not worried about this particular issue – not because it makes it harder for folks to ‘escape’ arrest - but because it targets people based on their familial, racial and religious origin.]
I hadn’t thought very deeply about the connections between DNA sampling, racism and Islamophobia until today, when I was reading an article in The Nation today and came across this little statistic:
“By 2008, Britain’s National Database stored DNA from 27 percent of the black population and 77 percent of young black males.”
This statistic is shocking in and of itself. And although the article didn’t really go into the War on Terror, the particular stat made me wonder what percent of Britain’s Muslim population has its DNA stored in the National Database.
It’s important to know that Britain does have legislation governing the storage of DNA. In a 2008 ruling, the ECHR found that it violated the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights, for states to hold DNA samples of individuals who are arrested but later acquitted, or have the charges dropped. For that reason, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, DNA samples must be destroyed within six months.
But have they been? Consider how Lord Taylor, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, responded last month when he was asked if Schedule 7 DNA samples have been destroyed:
“Asked by Lord Ahmed: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the biometric data taken from people examined or detained under Schedule 7 (Port and Border Controls) to the Terrorism Act 2000, but not charged with any offence, has been destroyed in accordance with the Protection of Freedoms Act 2011.[HL6130]
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 has yet to be commenced. I made a statement on its implementation, including destruction of existing biometric material, on 13 December 2012 (Official Report, col. WS160). Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 2012 Act will apply to material subject to the Terrorism Act 2000, including Schedule 7.” [from 20 March 2013]
So despite the ECHR ruling and the Protection of Freedoms Act, DNA samples are still sitting there, waiting for destruction “to be commenced”... well, sometime. But forcing someone to provide their DNA – without even a minimal legal threshold like reasonable suspicion (as occurs under Schedule 7)– doesn’t only institutionalize the invasion of privacy rights within criminalized communities. There are also greater risks at stake. The piece in The Nation outlines the broader concerns in the US context:
“... beyond privacy concerns, there is another reason to reconsider DNA collection on arrest. Because people of color are disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested, they will disproportionately bear the burden of this genetic dragnet. And because DNA samples can be used to establish family relationships, it has the potential to widen the surveillance to entire communities.”
Although I’m not an expert (so could certain be wrong), it seems that in the UK the use of DNA samples to establish familial relationships is perfectly legal. This past February the science editor of the BBC reported:
“The destruction of the swabs is also likely to hamper a forensic technique that has been successfully applied in the UK, known as familial searching, said Dr Maguire. This involves searching for close, though not exact, matches in the DNA database, in the knowledge that such hits could represent family members of a suspect.”
In other words, one of the less overt functions of Schedule 7 is to allow the state to gather genetic data on entire families and communities they deem suspicious. It’s just another reason to fight back against Schedule 7.