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Common sense approaches to dealing with crime and DNA

16 December 2008

In a speech, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith called for new 'common sense standards' for the use of investigatory powers and the retention of DNA profiles.

She said she wants to strengthen how the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) (new window) is used, and how and when DNA profiles are retained as part of a national database.

Consultations will start next year

In her speech to the Intellect Trade Association, she said the process would get underway with a series of consultations early in the new year on these controversial topics.

The Home Secretary said, 'While the vast majority of the investigations carried out under RIPA are important – like protecting the public from dodgy traders, trapping fly tippers who dump tonnes of rubbish on an industrial scale across the countryside, or tackling the misery caused by noisy and disruptive neighbours – there are clearly cases where these powers should not be used.

'I don’t want to see these powers being used to target people for putting their bins out on the wrong day, for dog fouling offences, or to check whether paper boys are carrying sacks that are too heavy.'

A consultation on the use of RIPA will examine:

  • the codes of practice behind RIPA
  • which public authorities can use RIPA powers
  • how those powers are approved in each case, and who can authorise their use

She also plans to consult on how to ensure that RIPA powers meet tests of safeguards, openness, proportionality and common sense.  

She said, 'The public is our best defence against crime and terrorism. But I know people will not thank us if the systems we design to protect them are too intrusive.'

Careful action needed on DNA

Discussing the issues surrounding the government's use of DNA, she said they must think carefully about how long to keep DNA evidence, and whose DNA to keep.

She said the use of DNA in police investigations has been 'one of the breakthroughs for modern policing.'

'It’s an area where I’m proud to say that Britain is leading the world. However, the strengths of the DNA database can only be safeguarded if they enjoy the confidence and trust of the public.'

Currently, DNA evidence is being stored on people regardless of whether or not they were ultimately convicted of a crime.

Consultations in coming months will look at many issues surrounding DNA, including:

  • whether the rules on DNA should tie into the seriousness of the crime committed, and possibly the age of the offender
  • whether the rules on retaining DNA samples need to change
  • whether police can retrospectively take samples after conviction
  • whether police can take samples from people convicted of crimes overseas

Some actions will be taken soon, though: she will take immediate steps to remove the DNA of children younger than 10 from the database.

The proposed changes will be designed to produce a more proportionate, fair and common sense approach to storing DNA.

Find out more

Read the Home Secretary's speech on the Home Office Press Office website. (new window)

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