Updates on information retention in the UK

Two important decisions have been announced in the UK today regarding the retention of information in the criminal justice area.

Firstly the Court of Appeal has ruled against an information tribunal ruling that data on old minor convictions must be deleted from police computers. The Court found that retaining information for police operational needs was far easier to justify than disclosing the information to others. To this end Lord Justice Waller stated

If the police say rationally and reasonably that convictions, however old or minor, have a value in the work that they do, that should, in effect, be the end of the matter

The case was brought because under the Data Protection Act which requires that information be relevant, up to date and not excessive. Five people had lodged complaints after their records showed up in checks when they applied for jobs. The type of conviction at the heart of the case were minor, and for the most part committed by the people when they were juveniles.

Under the present police policy, criminal records can remain on the national computer for up to 100 years.

The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the decision, clearly relieved that the Court of Appeal had decided in favour of retention of even minor data:

This data assists police officers in their work in preventing crime and protecting the public, and the loss of such valuable information would have been detrimental to that.

The issue is now to be subject to a review of the criminal conviction retention policy, to be carried out by an independent adviser following a request by the home secretary.

The second decision is that made by the United Kingdom’s Home Office to abandon its proposals to retain the DNA profiles of innocent people on the national database. In 2007 it had announced its intention to keep the DNA profiles of those arrested ‑ but never convicted of a crime ‑ for between 6 – 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the offence. However, the proposal is not to be included in the policing and crime bill currently going through the British Parliament.

Doubt had already been raised about its viability following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S. AND MARPER v. THE UNITED KINGDOM, 4/12/2008, (Applications nos. 30562/04 and 30566/04) in which it held that the schemes for the retention of such samples in the UK is contrary to the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention.

As reported today in the Guardian, a Home Office spokesman said:

We have now completed a public consultation on proposals to ensure the right people are on the database as well as considering when people should come off. Those proposals were grounded in the research and allowed us to respond to the judgment of the European court of human rights both swiftly and effectively.
The government will take the most expedient route to address the issue as soon as possible in order to comply with the European court’s judgment.

The decision comes after many felt that the UK government would have faced defeat in the House of Lords if it had kept to its DNA database plan. whilst the home Office spokesperson stated that they hoped to bring forward “further provisions” on DNA retention in the next policing and crime bill it will be interesting to see if the issue is considered significant enough to warrant another outing. Particularly as concern over data storage/privacy in the UK continues to mount.