Power to the people


Good news for freedom today as the House of Lords has defeated the government over the issue of keeping peoples' DNA and fingerprints on the police national database. Peers backed a Conservative amendment calling for national guidelines for deleting material by 161 votes to 150.

The amendment by Tory frontbencher Baroness Hanham would require the Government to publish national guidelines to establish procedures for people to find out what information was held on them or their dependants, how to ask for it to be deleted, and the circumstances where police chiefs could refuse. Such regulations would have to be approved by both Houses.

The National Policing Improvement Agency - which released the figures under Freedom of Information rules – estimates that 4,631,838 individuals are now on the database. This includes people who have not been convicted of any crime. And they have big plans for your DNA: A senior scientist from the Forensic Science Service said the Home Office would like the DNA database to be the same size as the national fingerprint database, which has more than 7.3million prints.

Europe may offer some salvation. Next month a case will be heard in the European Court of Human Rights. It will rule on whether it is lawful to keep DNA samples from individuals that have not been convicted for any crime. If successful, over 1 million DNA records will have to be destroyed.

With this government readily tearing through the foundations of freedom in the UK, the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights at times appear to be last lines of defence we have. And yet for very different reasons, both are rather suspect protectors of our liberty.

What this country needs is a new contract between the individual and the state. One in which power hungry politicians can be kept at arms length from our private space. We are all suffering from the intrusive state, the consequent lack of liberty demands redress. In 1100 we got the Charter of Liberties; in 1215 we got the Magna Carta Libertatum. Now about to enter 2009, we need another contract to restrain executive power.