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Britain has stored the DNA profile of 5.9 million people, which is about 10 percent of the country’s population. It’s been estimate that as many as one million of those whose information is in the database since it was started in 1995 have never been convicted of a crime.

The group Genewatch has pointed out that the database contains records on 30 percent of the country’s black population – a much higher proportion than the general population. Records of about one million children are also stored..

The government announced earlier this month that DNA records of adults who were not convicted of any crimes would be removed after six years. Terror suspects’ details, however, would be kept indefinitely. Data from juveniles who were found not guilty of any serious crime would be kept for three years — six years if they are 16 or 17 years old.

Previously, the government kept for life DNA samples from anyone arrested by police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The European Court of Human Rights has called the life-time retention policy “blanket and indiscriminate.” In Scotland, the DNA profiles of those arrested for serious crimes are kept for three to five years. Profiles taken in more minor cases have been destroyed.

Defenders of the system point to successful investigations. Matches were found at 390,000 crime scenes between April 1998 and September 2008. Last year investigators found 17,614 matches, including those in 83 murder investigations and 184 rape investigations.

Story here: The Big Question: Why is Britain’s DNA database the biggest in the world, and is it effective?

Tom Kelchner