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DNA profiles and fingerprints of 7,800 on police counter-terrorism database

55% of people on database had never been convicted of an offence

Published 11/03/2016

Records relating to 7,800 people were being held as of October last year
Records relating to 7,800 people were being held as of October last year

DNA profiles and fingerprints of almost 8,000 individuals have been stored on a police counter-terrorism database, it has been disclosed.

Records relating to 7,800 people were being held as of October last year, a report by an official watchdog said.

The archive - which is in addition to the larger national DNA database - features biometric details of those convicted in relation to terrorist investigations as well as others who have not been convicted but where authorities deem the retention of the details to be necessary for national security purposes.

It was also revealed that records of at least 45 individuals will have to be deleted, even though authorities may have sought to hold them on national security grounds.

The report from Biometrics Commissioner Alastair MacGregor QC said that in October 2013 the DNA profiles and/or fingerprints of some 6,500 identified individuals were being held by police forces on the national counter-terrorism database.

Two years later the number stood at 7,800.

It is one of the first official indications of the size of the database to be made public. The total is higher than previous indications of the number of terror suspects in the UK.

Of the individuals whose biometric records were being held by police on counter-terrorism databases, 4,350 - or around 55% - had never been convicted of a "recordable" offence. This is generally a crime which can attract a prison sentence.

Previously DNA profiles and fingerprints could be retained indefinitely regardless of whether someone had been convicted or not.

Under a new regime this is permitted in circumstances when someone is convicted of a recordable offence, but in most other circumstances the details should be deleted at the conclusion of an investigation or proceeding.

However the rules allow for the extended retention of material taken from an individual who has not been convicted of a recordable offence when a senior officer makes a national security determination (NSD).

These allow biometrics to be kept for up to two years, and they can be renewed.

Mr MacGregor's report said: "I understand that by 31 October 2015 handling and other delays had led to a situation in which the statutory retention periods in respect of the biometric records of at least some 450 individuals had expired before NSDs could be or had been made in relation to them.

"Although it seems unlikely that NSDs would have been applied for and made in relation to more than a small proportion of those records, I also understand that in about 10% of those cases it is possible that NSDs would have been applied for.

"Indeed, in at least three of those cases such applications had in fact been made and approved."

Mr MacGregor said he was satisfied that factors which contributed to the "slow implementation" of the NSD process have now been addressed.

"It is clear, however, that procedural errors and handling delays in relation to new material have given rise to significant difficulties and that those errors and delays have led, or will lead, to the loss of a significant number of biometric records that probably could and should have been retained," he said.

The commissioner said he had been assured that "urgent steps" are being taken to "procure the speedy deletion" of material that has remained on counter-terrorism databases "beyond its lawful retention date".

Daniel Nesbitt, research director of Big Brother Watch, said:"This report raises a number of important concerns that will just pile more pressure on the Home Office to sort out its approach to biometric technology."

A spokeswoman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said: "The fingerprint and DNA data of a small number of individuals who potentially pose a threat to national security have been deleted from biometric databases as the retention period expired before a national security determination (NSD) could be submitted for approval.

"The identity of these individuals is known and the risks they potentially pose are being managed in conjunction with partner agencies.

"Comprehensive measures have been put in place to prevent the loss of further biometric data from individuals of concern before a NSD is applied for."

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