Second Reading

Part of Protection of Freedoms Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:49 pm on 8th November 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Liberal Democrat 7:49 pm, 8th November 2011

My Lords, I focus my remarks on aspects of the Bill relating to policing matters. I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

I begin by expressing concern about the proposals in the Bill regarding the regulation of biometric data, particularly the DNA database. DNA profiling is critical to the successful investigation of crime, particularly in cases of serious violence and sexually motivated crime where the perpetrator is a stranger to the victim. At the same time, the blanket and indiscriminate retention of DNA profiles is wrong, as the recent judgment in the European Court of Human Rights made clear.

There are some very welcome provisions in this Bill: the intention to put the National DNA Database and the National DNA Database strategy board on a statutory footing; the destruction of DNA samples within six months; the assurance that the DNA profiles of those found not guilty of an offence will in future not be loaded on to the database; and the deletion of existing DNA profiles of those who have been found not guilty of an offence.

However, there remain some concerns and areas that I believe could be improved. I have a particular concern regarding the complexity of the new retention regime for biometric data. We need a regulatory system that is robust and which enjoys public confidence, but we do not need one that is excessively burdensome. Deciding how long to retain DNA profiles is a complex business. The retention periods stated in the Bill are not fixed, but are subject to complex decision-making-for example, the provision for the biometrics commissioner to extend the retention period by two years in certain circumstances. While not every profile will need to be assessed, it is unlikely that it will be possible to automate the process of deletion as a result of this provision. The administrative burden on the Metropolitan Police service-and indeed other police services-is likely to be significant. The Metropolitan Police estimates the initial cost of implementing the Bill at £2.5 million plus ongoing costs of £500,000.

There is also an operational risk inherent in the complexity of the retention regime. No system is perfect and, if the deletion process is out of sync and is not carried out at the appropriate time, there is a real risk of "illegal" matches that could connect someone with a serious crime such as rape but then could not be used. The police must not be put in the invidious position of identifying a rapist or murderer but being unable to use the DNA match in evidence.

A further concern in this section is about the regulation of the counterterrorism DNA database. Given the proposals within the Bill to strengthen the oversight and governance of the National DNA Database, for the sake of consistency, similar moves should be made in respect of all police databases relating to DNA and other biometric materials, including the counterterrorism DNA database.

We should also consider Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and how this Bill relates to it. At present, the police may obtain DNA profile data and fingerprints from people stopped under Schedule 7. However, there is a need for clarity regarding the treatment of these data. The proportion of people stopped under Schedule 7 who have their DNA and fingerprints taken is low, but Schedule 7 gives the police very considerable power. An examining officer may exercise his powers,

"whether or not he has grounds for suspecting".

There is consequently a need for clarity and transparency regarding where this biometric data information is then stored, and if it is subject to the same safeguards governing DNA taken from an individual on arrest.

I will refer briefly to the question of closed circuit television and automatic number plate recognition, included in Part 2 of the Bill. The regulatory framework proposed in the Bill is a positive step. However, the code should specifically address the covert use of both automatic number plate recognition and CCTV. The Minister in his opening remarks referred to Project Champion, which is a very good example of how ill thought through proposals and a lack of engagement and consultation can undermine confidence in policing. We also need clarity as to whether the responsibilities of the proposed Surveillance Camera Commissioner could be undertaken by the existing Chief Surveillance Commissioner. When we move to Committee stage, I shall be seeking to return to some of these issues.