LONDON — The DNA of innocent people arrested then cleared without charge will be held by the government for no more than six years, the Home Office said on Wednesday.
The proposals, which were immediately criticised by rights campaigners, were made in order to comply with a European ruling which said Britain was in breach of the Convention on Human Rights for holding onto DNA samples indefinitely.
Under the new proposals, DNA samples and fingerprints collected from people arrested in England and Wales on suspicion of minor offences, then cleared, would be deleted from a central database after six years.
With respect to minors, the DNA profile of any youngster arrested but released without charge will be held for three years before being destroyed.
However, samples taken from anyone arrested on 'terror charges', even if they were not charged or acquitted, could be kept for life.
The government has repeatedly insisted the database, which was created in 1995 and holds information on about 4.5 million people, is a "vital tool" in fighting crime.
But last December, Britain was found to be in breach of human rights law for not destroying the DNA samples of a man accused but not charged of harassing his partner, and of an 11-year-old who was acquitted of theft.
In the ruling, the Strasbourg court ruled that the indefinite preservation of personal data logged in police files of anyone suspected of committing an offence was "blanket and indiscriminate".
The new proposals will mean anyone convicted of a crime will have their DNA data held on police file indefinitely. The same applied to juveniles convicted of the most serious offences, such as murder, rape, manslaughter and serious assault.
Home Office minister Alan Campbell said the move to hold the DNA of terror suspects for an indefinite period was necessary because such investigations often took longer than usual.
"The reality is that many investigations of certain terrorist activity take a very long time indeed, and they have to be treated differently to the other offences we are talking about," he said.
He said each case would be reviewed by senior police officers every two years to see if it was still necessary to retain the suspect's sample.
Shami Chakrabarti, head of the civil rights body Liberty, slammed the proposals, accusing the government of retaining "a blanket approach to DNA retention" and refusing to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.
"Nobody disputes the value of DNA and anyone arrested can have a sample taken and compared to crime scenes. But stockpiling the intimate profiles of millions of innocent people is an unnecessary recipe for error and abuse," she said.