Ben Leapman, Sunday Telegraph (London), Nov. 5, 2006
Race watchdogs are to investigate the national DNA database over revelations that up to three quarters of young black men will soon have their profiles stored.
Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), vowed to examine whether the database breached race relations laws following the findings by The Sunday Telegraph. “This is tantamount to criminalising a generation of young black men,” he said.
An estimated 135,000 black males aged 15 to 34 will be entered in the crime-fighting — database by April, equivalent to as many as 77 per cent of the young black male population in England and Wales. By contrast, only 22 per cent of young white males, and six per cent of the general population, will be on the database.
All arrested crime suspects have their DNA taken and their profile stored for life, even if they are later cleared or the arrest is found to be a case of mistaken identity. Even children under 10 can have their DNA recorded. Mr Phillips disclosed that his officials will investigate whether the policy of retaining DNA from suspects who are never convicted of a crime results in discrimination against black men, who are more likely to come into contact with police than their white counterparts.
“Stop and search statistics suggest that black males are more likely to be stopped simply because they are young black males,” he said. “This database figure is just perpetuating this stereotype, and does nothing to instil confidence in a measure that seeks to serve all members of our community. It is provocative, unfair and unjust and will do little to reduce crime.
“It would be fairer to have a database that restricts itself to storing the DNA profiles of those who are convicted, rather than this fast and loose approach, which opens up the potential for discrimination.
“As enforcers of the Race Relations Act, the CRE will be investigating if this complies with the race equality duty to promote positive race relations. If we discover that the database fails to comply with the law, than we have to consider what legal steps we can take.”
The new figures, calculated from the Home Office’s own projections, will fuel fears that Britain is becoming a “surveillance society” in which some ethnic groups are monitored more closely than others. They will also spark alarm about levels of criminality.
The figures arise from Home Office projections released to Bob Spink, a Conservative MP, which show that by April 2007 the DNA database will hold 3.7 million profiles, including three million “white-skinned Europeans” and 257,099 “Afro-Caribbeans”.
The Home Office could not break down the figures for each ethnic group by age or sex. But, in general, 82 per cent of individuals on the entire database are male, while 64 per cent are aged 15 to 34. It means that, assuming a similar sex and age balance for all ethnic groups, there will be 135,000 young black men on the database next April. Figures for the last census in 2001 showed there were 175,000 black men, aged between 15 and 34, in England and Wales.
The calculation method has been endorsed by experts, including Dr David Owen, of Warwick University’s Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, who described the figures as “disturbingly high”.
Henry Potts, a statistician at University College London, said: “The available data points firmly to this conclusion.” Dr Potts said, however, it remained slightly unclear how individual police officers record the ethnic group of mixed-race crime suspects.
He pointed out that if some were recorded in the database as Afro-Caribbean, then the true proportion of young black men who are on the database could be below 77 per cent, but confirmed it would still be more than 60 per cent.
Prof Sir Bob Hepple, QC, who is leading an inquiry by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics into the DNA database, said the figures would add to concerns about discrimination. The inquiry is considering whether it would be fairer to hold the DNA of everyone, not just crime suspects.
A Home Office spokesman said that a full age, sex and ethnic breakdown for the database was “not currently available” and added: “We cannot corroborate the calculations.”