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ID and DNA: I'd rather keep my freedom and be mugged more often

27 February 2008

Matt Wardman (Leiester, The Wardman Wire): Here we go again. We have a government demanding that we let the power exist to lock people up for 42 days, and making "it won't happen very often" an excuse, and we have a police force demanding that the crimes that have been solved because of 5 million records on the DNA database and nearly as many CCTV Cameras justify putting us under more and more control.

Signally, the Association of Chief Police Officers is calling for:

a debate on whether to expand the current database - of DNA details taken from crime suspects - to cover all people in the UK

This is the wrong place to focus that debate. The question should be whether we scale the DNA database down so that it does not impinge on the human rights of individuals. As things stand, we have the rights of the innocent being routinely abused in DNA samples being retained.

The same goes for the guilty - it is wrong to routinely keep DNA records when the sentence for a crime has been served. There are exceptions to this, but not many.

Meanwhile we have a challenge in the European Court to the right for the police to retain the DNA of the innocent, purely because they happen to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when an enquiry was in progress. The argument is based on how many crimes have been solved using DNA techniques.

However, we know that treating the symptoms of crime will not ultimately fix the problem. It did not fix it when Michael Howard told us "prison works", and it has not worked for the 2 N million extra fixed penalty notices handed out to increase the safety of drivers who were not trained properly originally.

We must address the causes, and that requires members of our society to take decisions not to commit crime in the first place. In short, at present we are on a helter-skelter to greater and greater state control of the individual - in a rush to be seen to address a panicky fear of crime in ways that are unlikely to fix the root cause anyway.

In my opinion we have the balance wrong between acceptance of personal risk, and a wild goose chase after sticky plaster quick and easy measures to fix whatever the lastest "crime problem" is stated to be.

If the continuing stream of greater inspection, greater control and greater loss of freedom was actually the way to reduce crime, then I would still rather keep my freedom and be mugged more often; but it isn't the way (just in case anyone is wondering - yes, I have been mugged).

A state and police run electronic Nanny McPhee will not deal with the problem. Crime may be reduced by an authoritarian centre in the short term, but in the long term crime is reduced by a society that is not willing to accept it - that certainly involves punishment, but more importantly it involves communities built on a human scale locally. Which brings us back to a need for a vital local democracy, and that needs political and human initiatives at the grassroots - not more government control freakery from Whitehall.

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