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Copyright (c) 2009 Human Rights Brief
Human Rights Brief

COLUMN: UPDATES FROM THE REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEMS

Winter, 2009

Human Rights Brief

16 Hum. Rts. Br. 45

Author

Jan Kratochvil* and Kavita Kapur**

Excerpt

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Indefinite Retention of DNA Samples Violates the Right to Privacy

The Grand Chamber decided unanimously in S. and Marper v. the U.K. that there are limits on the use of modern technologies in criminal justice systems. The U.K. government set out on a path to build an extensive database of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints in order to fight crime more effectively. According to the Criminal Justice and Police Act of 2001, the police had a right to collect, and retain indefinitely, fingerprints and DNA samples from anybody under investigation. At the time of the December 4, 2008 judgment, the government had the DNA profiles of 4.5 million persons on file.

The government kept DNA profiles from both petitioners in the case, even though criminal investigations were eventually terminated. S., a juvenile, was charged with attempted robbery but was acquitted on trial. Marper was charged with harassment but reconciled with his partner, and charges were not pressed. They both unsuccessfully applied for their private data to be destroyed. The U.K.'s highest court decided that mere retention of fingerprints and DNA samples did not constitute an interference with the right to privacy.

The European Court disagreed, and pointed to the highly personal nature of DNA samples, which contained sensitive information about an individual. The same applied to DNA profiles from which information such as a person's ethnic origin can be determined, as well as fingerprints which allow precise identification of a person. Consequently, simple ...
 
 
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