The State as a child’s big brother

The Northern Ireland Child Commissioner has finally spoken out about the retention of DNA and other details by the PSNI of young children who have neither been charged cautioned or convicted of any crime. As many as 3,000 children may be on the database and the issue was highlighted locally when an 11 year old girl was arrested and a photo, DNA and fingerprints taken. Why does the state want to retain the information of the innocent? Of the 3 million samples 140,000 have not been cautioned charged or convicted. The UK DNA database is over 4 times and 10 times larger than the equivalent European and American databases respectively. Conservative MP Grant Shapps and Genewatch has been trying to highlight this issue for some time. Grant Shapps argues that:

“If the government wants to build a DNA database of the entire population, starting with kids – bring forward proposals, pass it through parliament and have a debate.”

The Home Office says:

“…no-one lost out through being on the database.”

The PSNI avoid specifically addressing the concern about the innocent instead offering a general defence of the database:

“The DNA database has proven to be a very valuable tool in the battle against crime and, on a daily basis, assists in the identification of offenders in crimes ranging from burglary to murder.”

  • Peking

    Ack, look who has appeared back on the scene. Were you away again with your “PA”?
    Now that you are back, any chance of you giving us your views on the UDA shenanigans of recent days. Or are you following the DUP party line and saying nothing at all.

  • Not a word on the topic Peking?

    I’m not sure what the big deal is to be honest. The clear-up rate for crimes here seems to be depressingly low, if this helps fair enough.

  • Dave

    retaining the DNA of anyone who has not been convicted of a crime is totally wrong. This is one topic that both communites can unite on.

  • willowfield

    Why do you think it’s totally wrong, Dave?

  • Pete Baker

    “As many as 3,000 children may be on the database”

    Hmmm.. no exact figures then?

    There is an alternative way to look at this, without getting too heavily into the infringing rights discussion, although 140,000 out of 3 million samples doesn’t seem a lot.. but ANYway..

    Could this particular example be seen as the modern equivalent of a ‘clip around the ear’ to children who would otherwise not benefit from being dealt with by the full weight of the judicial system?

  • aquifer

    We are running on a broken wheel when police cannot bring children who are harassing the public to the responsible authorities. i.e. Their parents.

    I don’t want to have to pay for an offenders bed and chicken and chips for ever just because the law is a paternalist rights obsessed ass.

    Getting the DNA of vulnerable children could fairly be seen as a crime prevention measure, as they would then be less attractive as accomplices to older criminals. Children are often used in crime as they will not be prosecuted to the same extent.

  • fair_deal


    I already commented on it on one of PB’s and one of mick’s threads relating to the Ballysillan situation.

    “this paramilitary power play”

    “was the ballysillan meeting legal”

    Check your facts before you chat in future.

    [edited moderator]

  • bertie

    Ah come on now fair-deal’s origonal comment was totally justified.

    FD have you joined the DUP. When I last remember this being discussed you were happy enough not to be in any party.

    On the subject of the thread. I suppose it depends on how much you trust the police with this degree of knowledge. If SF are to get involved in policing, I wouldn’t want them to have DNA details of any child of mine.

  • fair_deal


    Nope I have not joined

  • Harry Flashman

    Trying to stay on topic, I find this outrageous, I know the usual “sure what’s the harm in it?” brigade can’t see where this is leading but then they would be happy if the State inserted a micro-chip into us all at birth and Big Brother could monitor us 24 hours a day.

    140 000 innocent people (that’s what “not charged, cautioned or convicted” means) have their DNA stored on police records, why? They are innocent. “Well sure they might be guilty later and it’s useful to keep their records”, fine we all might be guilty later so why don’t the police DNA us all.

    Christ the way people just roll over and let the State erode their privacy and liberties is incredible some times. Why don’t we all just get bar codes tatooed on our arms and let the cops scan us like supermarket checkout girls. I mean that’s the principle here, we’re not to be free born citizens any more, we will be just objects that ultimately “belong” to the flippin’ government.

  • willis


    I know you are in Oz and maybe they have citizens over there, but here we are subjects.

    The other point about DNA is that it is unique but connected, so you can build up a profile of a family .

    Good to see Fair Deal presenting both sides of the arguement, long may it continue.

  • Rubicon

    Couldn’t agree with you more Harry!

    If the 140,000 have not consented to have their DNA details retained then surely the police are breaking the law. The retention of such details for people charged would be controversial enough since a certain number would be found innocent. The retention of DNA details for persons neither cautioned, charged or convicted is another way of saying “innocent” and is exactly what Harry alleges – a state attack on the liberties of its people. Only parliament has the power to take such action.

  • “I know you are in Oz and maybe they have citizens over there, but here we are subjects.”

    Catch a grip of yourself. If you insist on self-pity at least pity yourself for something that is true and not another myth/lie (take your pick).

    Regards the actual issue, I believe the case that caused all the controversy was about a young girl vandalising a wall. The fact that she wasn’t charged means that she may be innocent in the eyes of the law but she still committed the act – that doesn’t seem to be in dispute. AFAIK a choice was given of taking the DNA sample or having her arrested and charged. Not a nice choice, but if you can’t do the time….

  • circles

    Its often that I agree with Harry but there really a first time for everything.
    There is absolutely no justification for police to take and retain the DNA of innocent people. Even worse that they do this with kids!
    “Getting the DNA of vulnerable children could fairly be seen as a crime prevention measure, as they would then be less attractive as accomplices to older criminals” Maybe aquifer all those kids who have been tagged should get like a wee brand or so their foreheads too, so those ny crims leave them well alone. After all, anything in the name of crime prevention!!!

  • circles

    “Its often that I agree with Harry” there goes my keyboard with its little tricks – the missing word was NOT

  • Dave

    If people cannot see that it is wrong for innocence people to have their DNA retained by the government, then we are doomed to lead a life of being denied our freedom. People who have been convict of a crime that is a different matter. people who has done no wrong should not suffer the notion (that someday they ‘might’ commit a criminal act).

    Innocence must not be punished, that is reserved for the guilty. simple isn’t it?

  • Harry Flashman


    Have no fear I understood you the first time, don’t worry, being in agreement with Harry Flashman may be a bit of a shock at first but I’m sure I’ll soon say something that grates like nails on a chalkboard and we’ll be back on the usual terms again.

    Actually to me this is a no brainer, just the same as ID cards and how people in their right minds can possibly agree with this sort of shite freaks me out.

  • Fanny

    “Why does the state want to retain the information of the innocent?”

    Some of them won’t remain innocent for ever. What’s wrong with having the DNA of everybody on file? That way, when a DNA sample is found at a crime scene the police can pinpoint a suspect at once. Saves a lot of bother and the guilty can be tracked down.

  • Aaron

    The point is made most eloquently in FD’s post. If the government wants a national DNA database, it can bloody well go through the proper channels – parliament.

    Not that that would be of any consequence to the people of Northern Ireland, of course, who have no say in any bread-and-butter issue.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Lest anybody write this off as just another one of those “principles” debates, remember that states have, since the dawn of civilisation and right up to the present day, always strove to oppress to the nth degree the people. The fact that we have, as far as we can tell, a fairly well-run state of affairs today (discounting our own local difficulty) is because of people who fight like hell to push back the powers of the state when necessary. States will relentlessly take more and more power and will abuse that power unless we all take up our duty to be vigilant.

    At the start of the 20th century most people were convinced that permanent world peace and prosperity were just around the corner. They became complacent. The result was the most terrible century of war and oppression ever. Do you want your grandchildren to ask why you didn’t do anything to prevent the same thing happening again?

    I’m going to lie down now :-/

  • Fanny

    Occasional Commentator

    Of course you’re correct in what you say about rights and states. It’s just that I can’t see how building a database of everybody’s DNA is going to disadvantage anyone except the criminal.

    I’ve left my own DNA on four continents. How is anybody going to harvest it and isolate it from the DNA of the other 6 billion humans on the planet? And why would anybody wish to? To blackmail me? To fit me up for a crime? It’s perhaps due to the lateness of the hour but I honestly can’t see how such a database could be abused.

    But I CAN think of a few high-profile crimes that would have been solved, and solved more quickly had the forensic scientists involved had access to such a database.

  • Harry Flashman


    At the risk of breaching Godwin’s law, in the 1930’s the Nazi government wanted to get a racial database of all its citizens. Such a hugely complicated procedure involved the latest technology available at the time and involved calling in IBM to develop a card indexing system. IBM have been excoriated ever since for doing so but they protest the democratically elected government of Germany just wanted to collect information, what possible harm could collecting information do?

    Now you can well argue “Ach sure that’s the Nazis, it could never happen here”, guess what it hadn’t happened in Germany before either. No one can state with certainty that the benevolent system of government that now rules us will be in place in ten years or twenty years time, I would bet money on it but I wouldn’t bet my life.

    ID cards are another thing, let’s think about the situation in fifteen years time (think back to 1992 and the Major government if you think I look far into the future). A recession has hit the UK, there’s widespread resentment in the country, as a result of astute politics and tabloid hysteria the BNP has got control of one of the recently established English Regional councils on a basis of cracking down on bogus asylum seekers. Controlling the bureacratic system as they do they have access to a huge wealth of information regarding race, religion, health, criminal records, addresses, schools etc.

    Are you comfortable with them having such information and would you like it extended to local councils in Northern Ireland where the representatives of terrorist organisations would have the same information about your family?

    As I said above it’s a no-brainer to me.

  • Fanny

    Harry, I wasn’t aware that my DNA reveals my race, religion and health. Not to mention the state of my bank account.

    Call me a no-brainer, but I’m still waiting to hear how possession of a sample of my DNA could be used to my disadvantage.

  • Harry Flashman


    DNA won’t reveal all that but ID cards will, are you happy with that? If so when do you intend handing over the records of your phone calls, internet activity, bank accounts, sex life, health history – both mental and physical -, credit record, educational achievements etc etc and while you’re at it all your friends and relatives too. Come on you’ve done nothing wrong why not give all these details to the police and the local council and the social services and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, hey you never know maybe it might stop a crime some time in the future so it’s worth it isn’t it?

    Do you see the slippery slope yet Fanny?

  • Fanny

    “Do you see the slippery slope yet Fanny?”

    Sure I do, Harry; always did. Do you see me advocating all the stuff you warn against? Let’s stick to that DNA bank. How is it bad?

  • Harry Flashman


    It’s a simple matter of principle, if it’s ok for the police to have our DNA records (the very core of our being by the way) then why stop there? If we accept the right of policemen to have access to our DNA records then why not our educational records, our health records, our credit histories, our love life, why should anything be sacrosanct?

    Let the police and the jobsworths down the council and through them tabloid journalists willing to pay sufficient bribes have free and unfettered access to everything about us, we are just sheep, we are not citizens, Big Brother really does know best, just shut up and accept the barcode on our foreheads, we have no rights to privacy.

    The DNA bank is not even the thin end of the wedge, it’s actually a huge battering ram, our DNA is our very being, the police want to get a record of my DNA? Tough shite, they’re not getting it. I’m not a cow that the Department of Agriculture can stick an ear tag on with a full record of my parents and my children, served up for the benefits of some unelected bureaucrat.

    You want to let the police have a record of your DNA, hey what’s stopping you? Knock yourself out, but answer me this, if you are happy to let the police have your DNA record why will you not hand over your educational reports, medical history, family background, credit history, phone bills whatever? These are all personal matters and private to you but apparently you have no objection to giving these details to policemen and the minimum wage workers at the records department in the imbecillic belief that it will stop crime, good luck with that.

    Me? I have pride and principles.

  • Fanny

    Harry, there you go again, banging on about stuff unrelated to DNA. I’m with you all the way on Big Brother issues but DNA is not related.

    I don’t know what you mean by my “imbecillic belief” or what this implies. It certainly sounds insulting so please try to temper your remarks. And I know you’ll eventually get round to telling me why a DNA record base is a bad thing for the non-criminal.

  • Harry Flashman


    If you haven’t got it by now you never will. Join an orderly queue there, you’re all getting a nice shower, baaa baaa baaaa…

  • Fanny

    Harry, I’ll “get it” perhaps when you let us know what it is. Come back when you have a satisfactory answer OK?

  • P O’Neil

    Probably a bit late for joining this blog. I couldn’t agree more – we are living in George Orwell’s wetdream.

    Theoretically, every child that was born after 1st Jan. 1970 could have / already have their DNA on a database. Since 1970 every child has a blood sample taken from their heel and stored on card, just for this very purpose.

    Now, the big thing the Government said would NEVER happen, has happened private sector access to the database. The compay LGC, used to process DNA samples from across the whole of the UK, has not been destroying DNA profiles after sampling, but created their own ‘database’. (,,1821676,00.html)

    PS Harry, barcodes are a little crude, here’s what they are planning on using

    Hmmmmmmm, the sheeple won’t willing take implantable microchips?? – Just wait until the Government has finished blowing up so more things – and they’ll be begging for it….

  • Rubicon

    Fanny – your confidence in DNA databases may be clear to you but I doubt it is to many others. There may be a heightened sense of suspicion about this information since (as the state of scientific knowledge now stands) the identity code is not sufficient information that can be used for other purposes (i.e., determining characteristics or pre-dispositions) – but this argument is superficial.

    The DNA 13 segment identity test does not need to retain characteristic or predisposition information. Along with the DNA identity code is also another code – the code that links the test to a retained sample. Sample retention is ‘needed’ in cases where disputes over DNA testing accuracy occur. In any event, the samples are retained. These samples contain the very information you claim the DNA identity code does not.

    The information retained DOES allow for characteristic and predisposition analysis. This area of science is rapidly progressing.

    Your faith in DNA identity testing is either based on scientific knowledge not expanding or that the link to the originating sample won’t occur.

    Since innocents are having their DNA retained – can you please explain the basis for you faith?

    (I haven’t bothered with the more exceptional problems of identical twins and different tissues from the same persons having different DNA but since you have such faith in the system perhaps you could – AFTER responding to the more serious problems of sample retention links mentioned above.)

  • Fanny

    Christ on a broomstick! It seems like every other poster on Slugger presumes I’ve offered opinions or expressed beliefs that I never did.

    Rubicon, where did you read about my “confidence in DNA databases”?

    Or my “faith in DNA identity testing”?

    What fucking “faith”? I’m simply asking (as a layperson who’d like to know) why a DNA record bank is a bad thing. How is the good it can do as a forensic tool outweighed by harm, if any?

  • Rubicon

    You didn’t offer opinions nor express beliefs? Let me role back a little …

    In regard to the testing of innocents you stated, “Some of them won’t remain innocent for ever. What’s wrong with having the DNA of everybody on file? (Posted by Fanny on Aug 05, 2006 @ 05:05 PM)“ and then continue with, “It’s just that I can’t see how building a database of everybody’s DNA is going to disadvantage anyone except the criminal. (Posted by Fanny on Aug 06, 2006 @ 02:55 AM)” and, ” Harry, I wasn’t aware that my DNA reveals my race, religion and health. (Posted by Fanny on Aug 06, 2006 @ 10:46 AM)”

    No expression of belief nor opinion there then? If I’m in error – my apologies. I interpreted you knew something about DNA.

    DNA databases can; compromise family relationships, invade privacy in a manner that compromises sperm and egg donation, undermine citizens right to know, lead to discrimination on health and life insurance, cause discrimination in employment, lead to involuntary disclosure of group medical conditions and compromise privacy in family relations. Since DNA research also concerns behavioural analyses the list could be considerably extended to include; potential predispositions to alcoholism, violence etc.

    So, the police wouldn’t wish to use the information in that way – would they? And that’s neither an opinion nor a belief?

  • Fanny

    Well, thank you, Rubicon. At last some answers to my questions!

    Your post has given me a lot to chew over. Definitely some issues to consider there….

  • Fanny

    I’m reviving this thread because tonight at 8.10 Channel 4 are showing part one of “What Makes Us Human?”

    Looks like this is one to set the video for, and it may have a bearing on what was discussed here.

    Here’s a reviewer: “The most powerful sequence in this first film occurs in its closing moments, when he [the biologist presenter] declares. ‘the age of mass genetic screening is upon us,’ an era of routine testing of potential employees and lovers in which ‘we will judge each other by the quality of our DNA.'”