Monday, June 04, 2007

UK: Ministers plan 'Big Brother' police powers

Ministers plan 'Big Brother' police powers

By Patrick Hennessy and Ben Leapman, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:35am GMT 04/02/2007

A swathe of controversial "Big Brother" style crime-fighting techniques are to be introduced by the Government under the cover of the 2012 London Olympics, a leaked memo has revealed.

The document, drawn up by officials at the Home Office and sent to 10 Downing Street, paves the way for a much wider use of the police's DNA database to identify suspects through their relatives.

Police are also to be empowered to scan postal packages to find drugs and to monitor an individual's progress in even greater detail than they can today, by using advances in CCTV technology as well as electronic travel passes such as the Oyster cards in use in London.

The Conservatives and civil liberties campaigners are leading protests against the proposals, with Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, accusing John Reid, the Home Secretary, of presiding over a "make liberty history" campaign.

The memo, entitled No 10 Policy Working Group on Security, Crime and Justice, Technological Advances, asks: "To what extent should the expectation of liberty be eroded by legitimate intrusions in the interests of security of the wider public?"

It goes on to explore how to win over public opinion and concludes: "Increasing [public] support could be possible through the piloting of certain approaches in high-profile ways such as the London Olympics."

The games are expected to see millions of extra visitors to the capital in what will present the police with the biggest peacetime security threat on British soil.

The leaked document paves the way for a big leap in forensics, particularly with the "volume of information now available on the national DNA database", on which details of more than three million Britons are stored.

It suggests that police will make much greater use of a technique known as "familial DNA" where a suspect whose details are not on the database can be traced through a family member whose details are already recorded. The memo states: "Records could be trawled more routinely to identify familial connections to crime scenes, providing a starting point to investigations through a family member that is on the database to a suspect that is not, for example."

It admits: "Such use is clearly controversial and requires careful controls."

Familial DNA relies on the fact that close blood relatives share much of the same DNA coding; for example, a parent and child, or two siblings, have DNA that is 50 per cent identical.

Scientists can match DNA found at a crime scene with a named sample on the database which is similar but not identical, indicating that the two individuals are related.

The technique was used last year to snare a serial sex attacker known as the "shoe rapist" because he kept his victims' shoes as trophies.

The crimes, in the early 1980s, went unsolved for more than 20 years; but when police stopped June Lloyd for alleged drink-driving, tests showed that her DNA was similar to samples taken from the rape scenes.

The evidence led police to her brother, James Lloyd, who admitted the offences and is now serving a 15-year -sentence.

However, Sir Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, is already investigating the database after The Sunday Telegraph revealed that up to three in four young black men have their DNA stored, far more than their white counterparts.

Because of the imbalance, black criminals are more likely to have a relative on the database, so are more likely to be caught through familial DNA.

Ms Chakrabarti said: "Fundamental debates about freedom and security belong in public and Parliament, and should not be left to the praetorian guard at Number 10.

"It's particularly worrying to hear that the London Olympics - supposed to be a celebration of our multicultural democracy - might be manipulated for political ends into part of the Home Secretary's 'make liberty history' campaign.

"The document describes liberty as a mere 'expectation', but in Britain it should be a way of life."

The Home Office refused to comment.


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