What is the UK National DNA Database?

The National DNA Database (NDNAD) holds the DNA profiles and samples from a select number of UK individuals. 

What is the UK National DNA Database?

  • The UK National DNA Database holds the DNA profiles and relevant DNA samples from a select number of UK individuals.
  • It is the largest database of its kind in the world and is continuing to grow each year.
  • Every profile in the UK National DNA Database is derived from a sample of human material, such as saliva or hair, collected from a crime scene.
  • The information derived from each profile can be a powerful tool in the fight against crime.
  • If a match is made between a crime scene profile and a profile on the database it can help police to identify a possible suspect.
  • They can then use this DNA information as evidence for demonstrating an individual is guilty of a crime.
  • Searching the database to find a match helps identify a suspect in around 60 per cent of cases.
  • In 2013, the UK National DNA Database comprised (National DNA Database statistics):
    • 4.8 million profiles (nearly 8 per cent of the UK's population)
    • 80 per cent of profiles from men
    • 76 per cent of profiles from white North European individuals
    • 7 per cent of profiles from black individuals
    • 5 per cent of profiles from Asian individuals
    • 0.77 per cent of profiles from Middle Eastern individuals
    • 73 per cent of profiles from individuals currently aged between 25 and 54
    • 17 per cent of profiles taken from under 18s
    • 14 per cent of profiles are replicated (more than one profile is held from the same individual)
  • Between 1st April 2013 and 30th June 2013 the National DNA Database produced 37 matches to murder, 103 to rape, and 6,141 to other crime scenes such as car theft and burglary. 
  • Most countries now have a national DNA database and the data from each of these databases can be shared and compared.
  • This can make finding criminals much easier, even if they do not come from the country in which they committed the crime.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, a British geneticist who developed techniques for DNA fingerprinting, discusses the importance of national DNA databases for helping to solve crime.

Who runs the UK National DNA Database?

  • The UK National DNA Database Strategy Board makes policy decisions about the use and running of the database
  • The UK National DNA Database Ethics Group provides independent advice on ethical issues
  • The National Policing Improvement Agency oversees the day-to-day running of the database and ensures data quality
  • Chief Constables submit samples to the UK National DNA Database and make the final decision on whether a record is deleted or kept

Storage of genetic information

  • When it was first created in 1995, the UK National DNA Database only held records from convicted criminals or people awaiting trial.
  • The samples were then destroyed if the individual was later declared innocent.
  • However, over the years, the laws concerning the taking, use and storing of genetic information has changed.
  • As a result, the database rapidly expanded to include increasing numbers of innocent people and children, as well as the guilty.
  • By 2008, the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could take samples, without consent, from anyone arrested for all but the most minor offences. Unlike before, the samples and profiles were kept permanently.
  • Only in Scotland did it remain that only those samples connected with serious crimes were kept, and those of innocent individuals were destroyed.
  • In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights made the decision that DNA from innocent people should not be kept on the database.
  • The 2010 Crime and Security Act also tried to address some of the ethical issues associated with the database, but because of a change of government in May 2011, no permanent measures were ever implemented.
  • However, over the course of 2012 and 2013, the Protection of Freedoms Act ensured that 1,766,000 DNA profiles taken from innocent adults and children were deleted from the UK National DNA Database, along with 1,672,000 fingerprint records.
  • In addition to this, 6,800 convicted murderers and sex offenders, not previously on the database, have had DNA samples taken and the information added to the database.  

Addressing concerns about the database

  • As the UK National DNA Database has grown, so has public concern about issues of privacy and human rights.
  • Balancing individual rights and the fight against crime has not proved easy.
  • Various steps have been taken to address these concerns, they include:
    • Quarterly publication of statistics (National DNA Database statistics)
    • The setting up of the UK National DNA Database Ethics Group in 2007
    • More discussions with the public, human rights and civil liberties groups
    • A government-commissioned report by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) on the use of bioinformation which was published in 2009
    • Easy to understand information on the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) website. 

This page was last updated on 2021-07-21