Over at OurKingdom, Guy Aitchison has posted again on the news that Labour is considering making the retention of DNA samples 'an issue' for the election. The latest twist in the tale is that Alan Johnson is reputedly scuppering a compromise with the Conservatives on this issue in order to make it something that Labour can campaign on. The Tories are to be branded as the party that is friendly to burglars.
In a matter of weeks the Labour party leadership will be expecting party members to get out there and make the case for a Labour government on the doorstep. How many in the party agree with the government on DNA sampling and the 'Tories are friends of burglars' line?
Let's remind ourselves what is being proposed. Back in 1995 the police set up a national DNA database. Anyone who was arrested was liable to have a DNA sample taken. This was then put on the database. When a crime is committed, and there is DNA evidence, the police can check it against the database.
The European Court ruled in 2008 that the practice of holding indefinitely samples taken from those not convicted of a crime is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights (specifically in violation of Article 8 which upholds the citizen's right to 'a private life').
The government responded, somewhat reluctantly and hesitatingly, by proposing to modify the original policy. Under what we may call the Johnson proposal, those arrested but not convicted of a crime will have their samples removed from the national database - but only after six years.
The Johnson proposal has the advantage that, in one respect, it may make it easier for the police to solve crimes. And this, of course, is the basis of the charge that opponents of the proposal are thereby 'friendly' to criminals.
But there are at least two strong - and, I think, conclusive - reasons to oppose the proposal other than sympathy for criminals: that it is disproportionate and that it is potentially counter-productive.
Let's take disproportionality first. If all we cared about was increasing how many crimes the police solve, then installing police surveillance equipment in every home would be an absolute humdinger of a policy idea. But obviously there would be the question of whether the gain in terms of crime detection is justified given the cost to privacy and the way the policy would change the relationship between the citizen and the state.
To put the point at its mildest, there is a reasonable case that the Johnson proposal is disproportionate. Given other changes in the law, and changes in police culture over the past decade or so, it is now quite remarkably easy for all sorts of people to get arrested. Indeed, there is even some concern that police may arrest people in order to get them on the database.
Under the Johnson proposal, as I understand it, the samples of anyone arrested would be liable to stay on the database for six years. And what message does that convey other than: we've arrested you once, so even though you have not been convicted of a crime, you are suspect? I do not want the state's relationship to its citizens to be corrupted in this very basic way, and that is why I think the proposal is disproportionate.
Precisely because of the message the policy sends to people, moreover, it could well be counter-productive. If people feel they are being labelled as suspects by the police, even when they are not criminals, then this might make them less willing to cooperate with the police. The police are no longer an extension of 'us', the law-abiding majority, but become an alien power whom many of us fear and resent. But if the police get less cooperation with the public, won't they solve fewer crimes?
So will you feel able to say, on the doorstep, that the Tories are the burglar's friend?