Surveillance: Citizens and the State - Constitution Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1040-1059)

Mr Vernon Coaker, Mr Tim Hayward and Mr Stephen Webb

19 NOVEMBER 2008

  Q1040  Lord Lyell of Markyate: You are talking about a proposed Communications Data Bill and there already exist the requirements of the European Data Retention Directive. I got the impression from your last answer that the Communications Data Bill was somehow going to give local authorities a lot of rights to look and see what telephone calls people have made even if they could not hear the content, and so on. What are you proposing and why?

  Mr Coaker: In terms of the Communications Data Bill?

  Q1041  Lord Lyell of Markyate: Yes, with particular relevance to anything other than serious crime or terrorism.

  Mr Coaker: As you know, as far as the Communications Data Bill is concerned it is now a proposed Bill, and as the Committee will know we are concerned about the way in which the capacity of law enforcement and the security services to access some of the data that they have been able to access is diminishing and we are concerned about some of the threats there are to that. It has been well publicised by senior police officers, by the Director General of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and some security services that they are concerned about the changes to the way in which we are communicating. Frankly, Chairman, the problem is that in a technological world where all of us are struggling to keep up the idea that all of the communications can be accessed now because somebody phones somebody else and the way in which it is changing through the internet is problematic for us. As a Government we have to take account of those changes in technology to ensure that our law enforcement and security services have the capacity to collect the information and data that they need according to and consistent with the principles that I laid out at the beginning. Where we are the present time is that we are looking at the options that are available to us and we will publish those options in the new year, January/February, for public consultation.

  Q1042  Chairman: As a Green Paper?

  Mr Coaker: As a public consultation document. All the various options then will be available for people to look at, for people to debate, discuss and come to some sorts of conclusions themselves about what they think is necessary, proportionate and appropriate.

  Mr Hayward: If I could just expand on the bit about the EU DRD, at the moment under the EU DRD the telecoms companies hold business data which can then be accessed by the authorities under RIPA. The problem moving forward is that the telecommunications companies will not necessarily hold all the data for business purposes and therefore it will not be available for the authorities to access.

  Q1043  Lord Lyell of Markyate: So what is going to happen?

  Mr Hayward: That is why we are looking at different ways in which we can collect that data and allow that for access.

  Q1044  Lord Lyell of Markyate: Has this got anything to do with local authorities? If it is MI5, MI6 and serious crime I do not think we are probably too fussed.

  Mr Hayward: No. It is aimed at serious crime and the intelligence agencies.

  Q1045  Baroness Quin: Lord West of Spithead answered a question in the House of Lords about this earlier this week. He said, "We are not proposing that data that have never been collected are held". Is that right? In other words, what the Government is concerned about is losing access to data that it already has, not about collecting extra data?

  Mr Coaker: Baroness Quin is absolutely right, my Lord Chairman. It is about maintaining our capacity, not about increasing it.

  Q1046  Chairman: Can I ask, Minister, when the consultation document is published in the new year whether there will be some quite substantial explanatory material to enable people who will want to respond to understand what it is all about?

  Mr Coaker: Absolutely, Chairman. I think there is a need for us to put that out alongside the consultation document and that is why Mr Hayward is working particularly on this project. We are very keen for debate and discussion to be engaged because it really builds on some of the things that Lord Peston and Lord Norton were saying earlier on. Part of the issue here is to get the facts out there so that people can engage with the debate so that, instead of having a debate about something that may or may not happen, we have a debate about the serious options that are available. From a Government perspective if you have chief police officers, security services, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency all seriously concerned about the diminishing capacity that they face, then we need to put those options before people and say, "These are the ways that you could address it", and what is acceptable to us and what is not.

  Q1047  Viscount Bledisloe: I want to ask you various questions about the national DNA database. First of all, according to the Home Office website our DNA database is the largest of any country in the world. Is that right?

  Mr Coaker: I think so, yes. Proportionately it is, so yes, I guess so.

  Q1048  Viscount Bledisloe: We are told that over five per cent of the UK population is on that database whereas in America it is only 0.5 per cent. Is that right?

  Mr Coaker: The figure I have is that 7.39 per cent of the UK population have a profile on the DNA database.

  Q1049  Viscount Bledisloe: 7.9 per cent?

  Mr Coaker: 7.39 per cent of the UK population have a profile on the national DNA database.

  Q1050  Viscount Bledisloe: Is it right also that last year more than 700,000 samples were added to that database which was a record increase for any one year?

  Mr Coaker: I think that will be about right. The reason I hesitate slightly is that I have hundreds of statistics in front of me and it depends what month you use and they change almost daily, but certainly there would have been a significant increase.

  Q1051  Viscount Bledisloe: That is what your official is there for.

  Mr Webb: It sounds right.

  Q1052  Viscount Bledisloe: What on earth is the justification for us having so much more of our population on the database than anybody else in the world?

  Mr Coaker: Partly because it has enabled us to solve a significant number of serious crimes. If you look at the numbers of murders, rapes, serious robberies and other violent crimes that have been solved as a result of having that database, we think that in the end is a proportionate response to tackling crime and it is a justification for it.

  Q1053  Viscount Bledisloe: Are you saying that America, which has only 10 per cent of what we have, or on your figures even less, only solves 10 per cent of the murders that we solve?

  Mr Coaker: I do not know what the figures are as compared to America in terms of crime rates. The point I am making is that the Government's decision here and the judgment that has been made is that the DNA database and the collection of DNA samples to be put onto the DNA database have proved an extremely effective way of tackling crime.

  Mr Webb: It is also worth pointing out that we started many years before other countries so our database naturally is larger because we have a longer series of entries. We were first and also we have a national system whereas in other countries they have a more federal system. It took longer to establish the idea of a national database.

  Q1054  Viscount Bledisloe: Does it follow from what you are saying that you would think it desirable if the entire population's DNA was on the database?

  Mr Coaker: No, I would not find that acceptable.

  Q1055  Viscount Bledisloe: Why not?

  Mr Coaker: Because we have taken a decision that first of all people who have been convicted of an offence have their DNA samples retained. We then changed, as you will know, through two Acts of Parliament in recent years, so that now DNA samples can be kept for people who are not only convicted or charged but now arrested and detained at a police station. I think that is the appropriate response. I think that is a response that is proportionate and I think is a response that commands the support of the population. I do not believe, certainly at the present time, that a national database of everyone is appropriate. Let me just say this. Even though there is significant debate and argument about the fact that in England and Wales we retain DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not subsequently charged, there is still a threshold there because the officer who arrests somebody has to arrest them according to the PACE procedures. That requires them to have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. They also then have to be taken to a police station and the custody sergeant there has to decide that that person should be detained. There is a debate and an argument about that. Some people do not think that is a high enough threshold. I think that is an appropriate threshold. There are others who would argue for a national database. That is not where the Government is coming from on this. We think we have got it right and we think it is proportionate to us in order to help us tackle serious crime.

  Q1056  Lord Lyell of Markyate: Just to help analyse that a bit, personally I am quite in favour of anybody who has got a criminal record having their DNA on the database, but when you come to people who have been just arrested or maybe charged but the charge is never proceeded with, or when they are found innocent or not found guilty, that is the area of debate, is it not? Do you have any statistics as to what number of crimes have been solved as a result of information held on the DNA database which does not relate to people who were convicted, and if you can break them down into those three categories it would be helpful?

  Mr Coaker: I have got that information here. The provisions of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 came into effect on 11 May 2001. Between that date and 31 December 2005, which are the latest figures we have, there were approximately 200,000 DNA profiles on the national DNA database which would previously have had to be removed before the 2001 Act was introduced because the person was acquitted or the charges were dropped. Of these 200,000 profiles approximately 8,500 profiles from some 6,290 individuals have been linked with crime scene profiles involving nearly 14,000 offences. These include 114 murders, 55 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 68 sexual offences, 119 aggravated burglaries and 127 of the supply of controlled drugs.

  Q1057  Lord Lyell of Markyate: The weasel words are "linked in", are they not? How many of those 6,290 people's DNA have led to their conviction?

  Mr Coaker: I will write to Lord Lyell about that, but it certainly does demonstrate that there is a read-across from the retention of that DNA to a significant possibility that large numbers of people have been responsible for serious crime, but I will investigate that for you and write to the Committee with that figure.

  Q1058  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Minister.

  Mr Webb: It is going to be a very difficult thing to prove statistically because obviously it is going to be one item amongst a lot of other things at trial. It might want to show the DNA link, it might lead to a confession, there might be other evidence or it might have been contested. We will do our best but it is not going to be easy to come up with precise figures.

  Q1059  Lord Lyell of Markyate: That is not going to be difficult. Once you have got the DNA link, if the person is convicted you can tell it. That is pretty straightforward.

  Mr Coaker: It is a very important point and we will write to the Committee with that information.

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