British police risk being overwhelmed with DNA and fingerprint requests from European Union countries if MPs decide to opt in to a controversial new database later this year, officials have warned.
A Home Office study discloses that police, prosecutors and the National Crime Agency (NCA) are likely to face a “high volume” of demands from foreign forces if Britain signs up a controversial EU crime database.
The in-depth study also warns that there may be an increased risk of innocent Britons being accused of crimes if the UK finally agrees to join the EU project.
It says some EU countries, including Germany, use lower quality DNA matching criteria than the UK, meaning people in Britain could be accused of being criminals because of “false positive” DNA matches.
The proposals have been highly controversial because of the risk that the DNA of unconvicted Britons, held on the UK database, would be handed over to EU police leading to innocent people being extradited.
The document says: “There is a risk that there will be a high volume of follow-up work (for example interviewing those revealed by DNA or fingerprint hits to have been present at the scene of a crime) for the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Crown Office, Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, Courts and the NCA.
“The potential inbound volumes as a result of Prüm are not known at this time but it is fair to assume that the relative ease of access via Prüm could increase the overall volume of inbound requests compared to the number of inbound Interpol requests that are currently made.”
It means police forces could be hit with a huge volume of work helping to solve crimes committed overseas, just as chief constables say they will have to cut police numbers as budgets tighten.
The report, which has only just emerged after being quietly slipped out during Parliament’s summer recess, also highlights another potentially serious scientific problem with the new system.
Some EU states load lower-quality DNA matches onto their databases using a lower number of “loci” – the position of a gene in a person’s DNA make-up – which can lead to so-called “false positives”.
It means that Britons whose DNA matches that of a criminal “by chance” could find themselves being extradited under a European Arrest Warrant.
More than half of Germany’s two million DNA profiles are based on the lower-quality samples, based on seven or eight “loci” in each DNA analysis.
It said crime scene DNA samples should only be shared with EU member states when there are eight or more “loci” and a citizen’s personal details would only be shared when there are 10 “loci”.
This would aim to keep the level of false positives “within acceptable and manageable levels”, the report said.
It also emerged that British national security could be damaged by the new database unless precautions were taken to avoid unfettered disclosure of sensitive information.
The Home Office document quoted from an as-yet unpublished report, by the UK Prüm DNA Evaluation (UKPDE) project, which said automatically handing over data under the new system could be a risk to national security and police investigations.
The UKPDE report’s main recommendation was there should be a “degree of human intervention” to ensure information is not shared that could “interfere with ongoing intelligence gathering”, investigations, witness protection or national security.