The Protection of Freedoms Act: how it affects data

Graeme Burton writes in Computing about the recently enacted Protection of Freedoms Act:

Perhaps the most contentious measures involve the retention of DNA and fingerprint evidence, which is taken as a matter of routine by police from anyone they arrest and, in some circumstances, detain for questioning.

Prior to the Act, police forces up and down the country were building a de facto DNA database, given that when someone was arrested but not charged with an offence, their DNA and finger print data would automatically be retained indefinitely.

Under the new Act, such evidence can still be retained indefinitely if suspects have previously been found guilty of a serious crime, but will be destroyed for suspects with no previous convictions – albeit after a three-year period. On top of that, if someone – in the judgement of the chief constable – is arrested unlawfully, their DNA and fingerprints can also be erased from the system.

However, where the legislation becomes extremely vague is clause 9, which covers national security. This enables any DNA or fingerprint evidence to be “retained for as long as a national security determination made by the responsible chief officer of police has effect in relation to it”.