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Police DNA Expert in Britain Calls for Database of Young Offenders

A British police forensic expert is calling for a national database of the DNA of badly behaved children in case they become criminals as adults. British authorities are increasingly tracking people's cell phones, credit cards and travel patterns, and some question whether gathering all of this information is necessary. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Clare Derrick is a mother with a lot of worries. Identity theft is one of them.

She is one of the 25 million people whose personal details the government has admitted losing in the mail. "Who knows what the risks are really? If our bank account details are out there, they can hack into our account. They can strip our account of money," she said.

Derrick says she is even more concerned about a police proposal to have naughty children on a DNA database. "I think it is very worrying that children as young as five years old can be almost pigeonholed," she said. "I think that it is really a sad thing."

Forensic expert Gary Pugh with London's Metropolitan Police says bad children should be targeted because future offenders could often be picked out at a young age. Pugh refused an interview with VOA.

Tony McNulty, the government minister for police and security, says DNA databases are an important tool. "We've had two very recent murder cases where the suspects were eventually convicted because of a DNA database hit," he explained. "But the whole investigation structure revolved around and was successful because both were on the database, but for very, very minor and rather trivial charges some time back."

Civil rights activist Jen Corlew says it is a step too far. "A lot of young people do come in contact with the police, even though they were perhaps arrested and then released without a charge or even a caution,” Corlew said, “and we are concerned about the guilt by association this brings, and the fact that you are criminalizing children who didn't do anything wrong."

The British government already has one of the world's biggest DNA databases, holding 4.5 million samples of genetic material.

British police also support a proposal for a DNA registry to cover the whole of the European Union with the addition of an EU-wide automated fingerprint recognition system.

On top of that, the Centre for Criminological Research says a fifth of the world's security cameras are in Britain, and the average Londoner appears on 300 safety cameras in a single day.

Human rights and privacy advocates say British authorities are building profiles of people by collecting credit card and cell phone information as well as monitoring their travel and work routines.

Opposition lawmaker David Davis says there is a safety concern with big data banks. "You've got valuable, vulnerable and attractive information all in one place. So, it's very, very worthwhile for a hacker, fraudster, a criminal or a terrorist to actually get into it and steal the data or corrupt the data," he said.

Clare Derrick's main worry is with the people who have access to a person's most private information, their genetic code.

"I don't think the government can be trusted with DNA if they can't be trusted with simply things like data, bank account details and personal information,” Derrick said. “No, they can't be trusted."

But the government insists DNA databanks are the future. So, civil liberty campaigners say the challenge will be for Britain to find the balance between collecting and protecting information banks, while respecting the rights of its citizens.