Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Letter from the Forensic Science Service

  In response to your letter of 20 July 2000, I enclose a submission on behalf of the Forensic Science Service (FSS).

  The FSS acts as Custodian of the National DNA Database and uses genetic data to provide scientific support to the police in the investigation of crime. There are now a number of other organisations that also contribute to the National DNA Database and will thus have collections themselves of related genetic data. I can provide you with a list of these if necessary.

Dr Janet Thompson
Chief Executive

20 September 2000

THE NATIONAL DNA DATABASE

  1.  Police powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984 were extended from 10 April 1995 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order (CJ&PO) Act 1994. This allowed the police to take non-intimate samples without consent from persons in police detention or custody who have been charged with or told they will be reported for committing a "recordable offence" (an offence subject to a term of imprisonment), and from persons convicted of a recordable offence after 10 April 1995 if they have not already provided a sample for that offence. It also allowed the police to take a non-intimate sample from persons not in police detention or custody, if one has not previously been taken, or the sample is unsuitable or insufficient for analysis, provided it is obtained within one month from the date of charge or conviction or notification that the sample is unsuitable or insufficient for analysis. They were further given the power to use information derived from these samples to check against information derived from other samples held on behalf of the police in connection with or as a result of the investigation of an offence. The powers were then extended by the Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Act 1997, to allow the taking of non-intimate samples without consent from individuals who were convicted for a sex, violence or burglary offence prior to enactment of the CJ&PO legislation on 10 April 1995, if they are still serving a period of imprisonment.

  2.  Home Office Circular 16/95 provided advice on the operation and use of a new National DNA Database (NDNADB) for England and Wales, based on DNA profiles obtained from non-intimate samples (mouth swabs/buccal scrapes and hair samples with roots taken under PAC as amended by the CJ&PO) and profiles from biological material recovered from scenes of crime.

  3.  The FSS has been the Custodian of the NDNADB since its inception, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

  4.  The FSS was also initially the sole supplier of DNA profiles to the NDNADB. It remains the principal supplier, but there are now other suppliers in the public and private sectors.

  5.  The data on the NDNADB and the samples obtained for DNA profiling are the property of individual police forces.

  6.  The NDNADB is used by the Custodian to provide intelligence information to assist the police in the investigation of crime by checking all new additions to the Database against the profiles currently held from CJ samples and samples from unsolved crimes.

  7.  DNA profiles and the associated demographic data are removed from the NDNADB if the Custodian is notified that the case against an individual has been discontinued, or they have been acquitted or died. Profiles retained long term on the NDNADB thus relate only to individuals who have been cautioned or convicted.

  8.  When profiles are removed from the NDNADB, the associated samples are destroyed as soon as practicable thereafter.

Q1A.  What current projects involve collecting genetic information on people in the UK?

  9.  The National DNA Database (NDNADB). There are also subsidiary databases associated with the NDNADB that do not hold both genetic information and details of the individual from whom this was derived, but which could provide links to collate this information (eg the Custodian's match reporting and acquittals databases and the FSS/supplier's submissions and sample storage databases).

Q1B.  What other projects are about to start?

  10.  None.

Q1C.  Are there collections of material (eg tissue samples) that could be used to generate databases of DNA profiles?

  11.  All buccal scrapes or rooted hairs obtained from individuals for DNA profiling for NDNADB purposes are retained by the FSS as a supplier of profiles to the NDNADB, and other suppliers, for as long as the DNA profile is retained on the NDNADB, pending the need to revalidate an initial analysis or to allow the profile held on the NDNADB to be upgraded should the technology change. Some of the intermediate analysis products are also retained.

Q2A.  Why are these genetic databases being assembled?

  12.  To provide the police with intelligence information to assist with the investigation of unsolved crimes.

Q2B.  How are these activities funded?

  13.  The costs of the Custodian of the NDNADB are recovered by charging the police and suppliers of DNA profiles to the NDNADB for the services provided.

  14.  The costs of the FSS as a supplier of profiles to the NDNADB are recovered by charging the police for the services provided.

Q2C.  What practical considerations will constrain developments?

  15.  Funding; the availability of robust and reliable new equipment/technology and competent staff resources; Government and police policy; legislation and case law; public opinion.

Q2D.  Are there alternative ways of fulfilling the objectives?

  16.  No.

Q3A.  What is the genetic information that is being collected?

  17.  The profiles on the NDNADB are Short Tandem Repeat (STR) DNA profiles. Until 1999, they comprised data from six STR loci (the SGM loci: HUMTHO1; D21S11; D18S51; D8S1179; HUMVWFA/31A; HUMFIBRA(FGA)) and the amelogenin sex marker. Subsequent profiles have contained additional data from four further STR loci (the SGM Plus loci: SGM loci + D19S433; D16S539; D2S1338; D3S1358). As far as we are aware, none of these STRs code for identifiable gene products or physical characteristics.

Q3B.  How is it being stored and protected?

  18.  The main data are stored electronically by the Custodian on a purpose built National DNA Database. Access to and use of the Database is controlled in line with the Data Protection Act, other Home Office IT Security regulations, and in compliance with the international ISO 9001 quality standard and the national M10 quality standard of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

  19.  The subsidiary databases held by the Custodian and suppliers are on restricted access, password controlled stand alone computers.

Q4.  How do the organisations involved see their responsibility regarding privacy; consent; future use; public accountability; intellectual property rights?

  20.  The samples and the information derived from them are obtained, stored, used and destroyed in accordance with legislation and Home Office and police requirements. The FSS is registered under the Data Protection Act. It is also registered by BSI to the ISO 9001 standard and accredited by UKAS to the M10 standard for its DNA profiling services.

  21.  The Custodian of the NDNADB ensures that the data on the NDNADB is used only for the purposes for which it was obtained, that access to the data is controlled and that it is retained for only as long as required, in accordance with PACE (as amended), HO Circular 16/95, the Memorandum of Understanding with ACPO and data protection legislation.

  22.  The FSS as a supplier of data to the NDNADB, and other suppliers, have to meet strict performance and procedural standards set by the Custodian to ensure that, as far as practicable, the profiles submitted are correct and attributed to the appropriate individual. The Custodian and UKAS monitor compliance with these standards.

  23.  The efficiency and effectiveness of the NDNADB is overseen by a National DNA Database Board which is jointly chaired by a representative of ACPO and the Chief Executive of the FSS. The expansion of the NDNADB (see below) is being monitored by the Home Office.

  24.  The NDNADB and its logo are registered trademarks.

Q5A.  How do they see their activities in the area of genetic databases developing in the future?

  25.  The purpose of the NDNADB will remain largely the same. However, the Government and the police have recognised the immense benefits of the NDNADB to law enforcement and have provided a substantial increase in funding to allow it to grow to such a size that it will contain the profiles of virtually all active criminals within the next three years.

Q5B.  What advances in sequencing, screening and database technology are they anticipating?

  26.  There will be on-going technological improvements in the way the profiles are obtained and the NDNADB is managed. It is also anticipated that developments in DNA technology and miniaturisation will lead to more information being obtainable from tissue samples and more quickly than at present. The advent of "chip technology" could also mean that the technique could be de-skilled sufficiently for personnel to undertake analysis with relatively little training. Furthermore, such analysis may be undertaken outside the laboratory environment. The interpretation of the evidence in the context of the case will remain a skilled procedure, although the development of expert systems will facilitate this.

Q6.  What lessons should be learnt from genetic database initiatives in other countries?

  27.  The UK has taken the lead in this area. We have provided support to a number of other countries to assist them in the development of their own systems.

OTHER FSS DATABASES

  28.  The FSS has an active research programme to develop new ways of obtaining and using genetic information to support the police in the investigation of crime. The FSS also maintains databases of genetic information that it uses in providing intelligence information to the police and evidence for the courts and the FSS maintains some other databases of genetic information for non-police customers that are held by consent of the donors of the DNA samples.

Q1A.  What current projects involve collecting genetic information on people in the UK?

  29.  Single Locus Probe (SLP) database: holds SLP profiles from undetected crimes and from individuals whose DNA was used to secure a conviction (as allowed by the legislation at the time).

  30.  Police Elimination Database: holds STR (SGM Plus) DNA profiles from buccal scrapes provided voluntarily by police personnel.

  31.  FSS Staff Elimination Database: holds STR (SGM Plus) DNA profiles from buccal scrapes provided voluntarily by FSS personnel.

  32.  Single Locus Probe (SLP) frequency database: holds SLP restriction fragment length polymorphisms derived from samples of known ethnic origin provided voluntarily by staff and other organisations and from casework.

  33.  HLA, DQa and STR allelic frequency databases: holds HLA, DQa and STR DNA profiles derived from samples of known ethnic origin provided voluntarily by staff and other organisations.

  34.  Mitochondrial DNA Population databases: hold mitochondrial DNA sequences from samples of known ethnic origin provided voluntarily by staff and other organisations and from casework.

  35.  Red Hair Prediction Database: holds DNA sequences from samples provided voluntarily by staff and related individuals.

  36.  Crisis Check Database: holds STR (SGM Plus) DNA profiles from buccal scrapes obtained with the consent of non-police customers.

Q1B. What other projects are about to start?

  37.  Development of frequency databases for the STR loci in the Applied Biosystems Cofiler and Profiler profiling systems and the Promega Powerplex systems.

  38.  Extension of mitochondrial DNA population databases to other racial groups.

  39.  Development of other commonplace characteristic databases to help identify possible phenotypic traits (eye colour, facial characteristics, weight, height, etc) and hence intelligence information to the police from biological material left at scenes of crime.

  40.  Development of assays based on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)—specifically for use in microfabricated array format for paternity testing (with c50 loci), as Y chromosome markers and as new mitochondrial DNA markers. SNP assays may also be used for commonplace characteristics work (see above).

Q1C. Are there collections of material (eg tissue samples) that could be used to generate databases of DNA profiles?

  41.  Police and Staff Elimination Database samples: stored as buccal scrapes; retained for as long as the STR DNA profiles are retained on these databases.

  42.  Miscellaneous samples of extracted DNA, blood, saliva, semen, vaginal swabs, buccal swabs, faeces, hair and urine samples, voluntarily donated by staff and other organisations for various research purposes, the development of frequency/population databases and the validation of new techniques.

Q2A.  Why are these genetic databases being assembled?

  43.  The Single Locus Probe database was used to provide the police with intelligence information to assist with the investigation of unsolved crimes.

  44.  The Police Elimination Database is used to check for the possibility of contamination by police personnel in the collection or handling of material obtained for the NDNADB.

  45.  The Staff Elimination Database is used to check for the possibility of contamination by FSS staff in the collection, handling or analysis of material obtained for the NDNADB.

  46.  The DNA frequency databases and the mitochondrial DNA population databases are used to provide information on the likelihood of a DNA profile obtained from material left at scenes of crime matching by chance DNA profiles from individuals in a specified population, and hence in the interpretation of casework findings for the courts.

  47.  The Red Hair Prediction Database was produced to help in the development of a DNA sequence polymorphism based test aimed at providing intelligence information to the police about the possible physical appearance of an offender from analysis of material left at the scene of a crime.

  48.  The Crisis Check Database is available to vulnerable members of society, such as senior executives and their families, who are at risk of abduction and the identity of whom may have to be established from samples provided.

Q2B.  How are these activities funded?

  49.  FSS casework activities are funded by charging the police on a case by case basis for the services provided.

  50.  Non-police customers are charged directly for any services provided.

  51.  FSS research projects are funded in part by the FSS and in part by the Home Office Science and Technology Unit.

Q2C.  What practical considerations will constrain developments?

  52.  Funding; police policy; legislation; the availability of samples for R&D; the availability of robust and reliable new equipment/technology and competent staff resources.

Q2D.  Are there alternative ways of fulfilling the objectives?

  53.  A minor part of FSS research work can be and is carried out using information databases/databanks openly available to the scientific community (eg GenBank) and data mining and manipulation packages (eg FASTA) for searching for and aligning DAN sequence data. However, genetic information databases from known and traceable samples are essential for population studies and the validation of new techniques. These could be produced on a sub-contract basis as well as in-house.

Q3A.  What is the genetic information that is being collected?

  54.  Police and Staff Elimination Databases: STR (SGM Plus) DNA profiles compatible with those on the National DNA Database.

  55.  The HLA DQa allelic frequency database: six alleles at the Human Leucocyte Antigen locus.

  56.  STR DNA allelic frequency databases: there are four of these, each with separate sub-sets for the Afro-Caribbean, Asian and Caucasian populations. The Quad database is based on four loci: HUMVWFA/31A; HUMF13A; HUMFES. The SGM database is based on six loci: HUMTHO1; D21S11; D18S51; D8S1179; HUMVWFA/31A and HUMFIBRA(FGA). The TGM database is based on seven loci: D3S1358; D1S518; D14S306; HUMTHO1; D10S516; D2S1338 and D22S684. The SGM Plus database is based on 10 loci: the SGM Plus loci: SGM loci + D19S433; D16S539; D2S1338 and D3S1358. As far as we are aware, none of these STRs code for identifiable gene products or physical characteristics.

  57.  Mitochondrial DNA databases: 780 bases from the mitochondrial DNA control region for the "full sequencing" service or 13 individual bases from 12 sites of the mitochondrial DNA control region for the "mini sequencing" service; none of these is known to code for proteins for RNA.

  58.  Red hair prediction database: polymorphisms of the MRSH gene, mutations in which are believed to result in the red hair phenotype.

  59.  Crisis Check database: the STR (SGM Plus) DNA loci.

  60.  SLP frequency databases, with separate sub-sets for the Afro-Caribbean, Asian and Caucasian populations: restriction fragment length polymorphisms of DNA from various chromosomes obtained using single locus probes: YNH2/chromosome 2; pMLJ14/chromosome 14; g3/chromosome 7; MS1/chromosome 1; MS8/chromosome 5; MS31/chromosome 7; MS43A/chromosome 12; TBQ7/chromosome 10.

Q3B.  How is it being stored and protected?

  61.  The elimination databases contain details of the genetic information and the identity of the individual from whom it was derived. The police elimination database is held by the Custodian of the NDNADB entirely separate and distinct from the NDNADB, access is restricted and password controlled, and there are strict rules on how and when it should be used. The staff elimination database is held by the FSS on a stand alone computer with restricted password controlled access, and again there are strict rules on how and when it should be used.

  62.  The DNA frequency databases and the mitochondrial DNA population databases contain only the genetic information; the identity of the person from whom this was derived is only traceable via separate data sheets not available to users of the databases.

  63.  The Red Hair Prediction Database contains details of the genetic information and the identity of the individual from whom it was derived. But it was only used to validate the test and is not now accessed for any purpose.

  64.  The Crisis Check Database contains only the genetic information; the identity of the person from whom this was derived is known only to the customer.

Q4.  How do the organisations involved see their responsibility regarding privacy; consent; future use; public accountability and intellectual property rights?

  65.  All donors to the FSS databases are volunteers who have agreed to the use of their samples and the data derived from them for specified purposes only. Consent forms have been used since 1996.

  66.  IPR is sought by the FSS for procedures (eg the red hair prediction test) rather than genetic information. Any published data is written so that genetic information cannot be traced to an individual.

Q5A.  How do they see their activities in the area of genetic databases developing in the future?

  67.  Genetic databasing will become quicker and faster. The use and size of databases will thus increase in the FSS. The introduction of miniaturised hybridisation assays would potentially allow a huge increase in data handling.

Q5B.  What advances in sequencing, screening and database technology are they anticipating?

  68.  See 26.

Q6.  What lessons should be learnt from genetic database initiatives in other countries?

  69.  The FSS is ahead of other countries in the use of genetic databases in support of criminal investigations and we provide support to a number of countries to assist them in the development of their own systems.

Dr R K Bramley
Chief Scientist

Forensic Science Service


 
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