Five civil servants who help run the national DNA database have been
suspended after being accused of industrial espionage.
It is alleged they copied confidential information and used it to set up
a rival database in competition with their employers, the Government's
Forensic Science Service.
The FSS - which is suing the five men in the High Court - helps police
investigate evidence from crimes and sells its services to commercial
It also maintains the controversial database containing DNA samples of
almost four million people, the largest in the world.
The men, all from the Birmingham area, are named on the writ as Azim
Akhtar, his brother Zaheer Akhtar, Sultan Mahmood, Nisar Ahmed, and
It is alleged they set up a company and planned to compete against the
FSS by providing similar services.
The case will inevitably raise concerns about the vulnerability of
genetic data, especially since the FSS was turned into a
Government-owned company in 2005 as the first stage of privatisation.
At the time Tony Blair faced a barrage of protest, with one Labour MP
denouncing the scheme as 'a criminal's charter'.
Civil rights groups have also been critical, arguing there are no real
safeguards to prevent misuse of the DNA database.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the case involving the five
men raised serious concerns.
"This is hugely significant and should make every law-abiding person
seriously worried. People are looking after these databases who have
less and less of a public-service ethic,' she said.
According to the High Court writ, the FSS began developing a website in
2005 called Iforensic.com targeting international law enforcement and
It says although the plans were secret, they were known to the five
defendants who had access to the DNA database. The writ alleges the men
set up their own company, Iforensic Ltd - having appropriated the name
from the FSS.
"In order to facilitate the creation of a DNA database to be operated by
Iforensic Limited...the defendants copied, retained and/or adapted
software and/or other confidential information' belonging to the FSS,
says the writ.
The document adds it would not have been possible for the five men to
create the software necessary to produce a DNA database without having
had access to 'and copying and/or retaining copies of the software
and/or the database.'
IT specialist Azim Akhtar, 30, is alleged to have registered three
internet domain names using the word Iforensic - and later, through a
friend, tried to sell one of the names back to the FSS for 'an
He and the four others worked in the FSS's Birmingham headquarters in
the information systems division, which is responsible for developing
and maintaining the DNA database.
The FSS is seeking damages for infringement of copyright, breach of
trust, breach of confidence and misuse of confidential information.
It is also seeking injunctions to make the five change their company's
name, return confidential information and transfer internet domain names
to the service.
According to the writ, the five set up Iforensic Ltd on September 29,
2006, to unlawfully exploit 'goodwill in the name' by extracting money
from the FSS for the sale of the company name at an inflated price.
They chose the name with a dishonest motive, to use it as an 'instrument
of fraud', it is alleged.
It adds they set up Iforensic Ltd to compete with the FSS to provide
forensic goods services and products, including national DNA database
Mr Akhtar, from Yardley, Birmingham, said: "We have never been accused
of taking personal information about individuals from the DNA database.
"What we are accused of is taking the database itself, not the
He added it was never the intention to set up a firm to rival the FSS or
the DNA database.
Mr Akhtar went on: "The FSS said if we have registered the domain names
using the iforensic word then we must be going to do the same business
as them and thus must have taken the database system."
He added the FSS was making IT redundancies and 'we plan to set up a
company to offer the services the FSS will be looking to outsource."
The FSS said it could not comment because of the investigation. The Home
Office insisted there was no question information held on the database
had been 'compromised'.
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