05:56, February 13 275 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-13 05:56:03
Police keeping drink-driver's DNA breached his rights, judges rule

The indefinite retention in British police records of the DNA profile of a man convicted of driving with excess alcohol is a breach of his human rights, Strasbourg judges have ruled.

The ruling by the European court of human rights (ECHR) over Fergus Gaughran’s claim presents a significant challenge for police data storage practices in the UK.

Gaughran, 47, from Newry, had complained that the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s continued retention of his DNA profile (the digital record of his DNA sample), fingerprints and a photograph was a breach of his privacy.

His lawyers objected to the fact there was no realistic opportunity for him to review the PSNI’s decision to keep the material and argued it constituted a breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees a right to respect for private and family life.

Gaughran was arrested for drink driving in 2008 and pleaded guilty at Newry magistrates court. He was disqualified from driving for a year.

Delivering their decision, the seven Strasbourg judges noted that the majority of member states in the Council of Europe had regimes that time-limited retention of biometric data. The UK is one of the few jurisdictions to permit indefinite retention of DNA profiles.

The judges said Gaughran’s biometric data had been held without reference to the severity of his offence. The UK’s regulations failed to strike a fair balance between the competing interests of public and private interests, the ECHR concluded.

The decision reverses a supreme court judgment in 2015. In that ruling Lord Clarke had declared: “The potential benefit to the public of retaining the DNA profiles of those who are convicted is considerable and outweighs the interference with the right of the individual.”