A consultation launched today by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics questions whether current laws allowing police to take, store and analyse the DNA of suspects, witnesses and victims should be revised. The Council's study coincides with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, advocating no restrictions on the number of DNA profiles held on the National DNA Database.The police in England and Wales have powers, unrivalled internationally, to take a DNA sample from any arrested individual, without their consent. The DNA profile is then stored on the National DNA Database indefinitely, whether the person is charged or not. The police use the database to search for matches to DNA found at crime scenes. It is predicted that under present laws, 25% of the male population and 7% of the female population will soon be on the database. The Prime Minister has said he wants to see the maximum number of people on the database to help fight crime.“We want to hear the public's views on whether storing the DNA profiles of victims and suspects who are later not charged or acquitted is justified by the need to fight crime,” said Professor Sir Bob Hepple QC, Chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. “Certain groups such as young males and ethnic minorities are over-represented on the database, and the Council will be asking whether this potential for bias in law enforcement is acceptable.” A third of black males in England and Wales are on the database.The UK’s National DNA Database was established in 1995 and is the largest of its type in the world, containing profiles from over three million individuals. DNA evidence significantly increases the chance that a criminal will be identified. For example, the detection rate in domestic burglary is 16 percent when no DNA evidence is available, but 41 percent when a sample is found.Even though a DNA match must be used with other evidence, the Council will be considering whether DNA can sometimes be given undue weight in court. DNA evidence produces complex statistical probabilities, which tend to be simplified for juries, and their true meaning may not be fully understood.“If DNA found at a crime scene is not on the database, the police can search for profiles of family members,” said Professor Hepple. “Sometimes family relationships can be revealed, such as an unknown father. Whether the police should be intruding into the privacy of families in this way needs to be addressed.”Victims and witnesses, including children, are often asked to volunteer a DNA sample to help the police in their inquiries. As they may feel pressured to comply so as not to raise suspicion, the ‘voluntary’ nature of giving samples in this way is debatable. Some also question whether children should be in the database at all. In December 2005, there were over 24,000 under 18s on the database who had not been charged or cautioned for any offence.The Council will be asking who other than the police should have access to the database. Scientists have begun to be granted permission to use the database for research related to crime prevention. For example, a current study is considering whether ethnic origin can be determined from DNA.In March 2005, the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology highlighted that the views of the public on the storage of DNA were not well known.The Nuffield Council has established a Working Group, which includes members with expertise in law, genetics, philosophy and social science, to examine the ethical issues surrounding the forensic use of bioinformation. To inform discussions, the Group has today launched a consultation to encourage members of the public, professionals and organisations to submit their views on the issues raised. The closing date for responses is 30th January 2007. A Discussion Paper setting out the Group’s findings will be published in autumn 2007.Find out more about this project