How long is too long?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently considered this question in the context of the retention by the Police Service for Northern Ireland of intimate samples lawfully taken from the suspect.

The suspect (Applicant) was arrested for drink driving in 2008 and taken to a police station where he was photographed, fingerprinted and a DNA sample was taken.  On pleading guilty he was fined and disqualified from driving for 12 months.  This conviction became spent in 2013.

At the Applicant’s request, the DNA sample was destroyed in 2015.  The PSNI, however, sought to retain the DNA profile extracted, his photograph and fingerprints for an indefinite period.

Article 8 of the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) provides: 

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

This convention right is free-standing of the UK’s membership of the EU and is not affected by #Brexit.

The ECtHR found that the ongoing retention of the Applicant’s data interfered with his Article 8 right to a private life.  It was noted that most member states had placed time limits on the retention of ‘biometric data’, such as DNA profiles and fingerprints, of people convicted of criminal offences.  An indefinite retention was, on balance, not justifiable.

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Gaughran v UK (ECtHR, 13 February 2020)

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