The entire UK population and every visitor to Britain should be put on the national DNA database, a top judge said today.
"We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands of the police, then your DNA is on permanent record. If you haven't, it isn't ... that's broadly the picture," Sir Stephen Sedley told the BBC.
"It also means that a great many people who are walking the streets, and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free."
He said that expanding the existing database to cover the whole population had "serious but manageable implications".
But he warned that putting everybody's DNA on file should be "for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention".
Britain's 12-year-old DNA database is the largest of any country in the world, growing by 30,000 samples a month. According to the Home Office website, 5.2% of the UK population is on the database, compared with 0.5% in the US.
The data is taken from criminal suspects or scenes of crime and there are currently 4m profiles held. Under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, police are permitted to retain DNA samples from anyone charged with a crime. Previously, samples and fingerprints taken from those found not guilty, or those who had their charge dropped, had to be destroyed.
Today, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights organisation Liberty, warned against potential changes to how and when British authorities collected DNA data.
"The DNA debate reveals just how casual some people have become about the value of personal privacy," she said.
"A database of those convicted of sexual and violent crime is a perfectly sensible crimefighting measure.
"A database of every man, woman and child in the country is a chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse."
A Home Office spokeswoman said the government had no plans to introduce a universal compulsory, or voluntary, national DNA database.
However, the department is currently undertaking a review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) 1984, which sets out the powers to take and retain biometric data.
"The DNA database has revolutionised the way the police can protect the public through identifying offenders and securing more convictions," the spokeswoman said. "It provides the police on average with around 3,500 matches each month."
She said final proposals on the review were due to be published in spring next year and would "take account of the views received during the consultation as well as those of Lord Chief Justice Sedley".
The Home Office minister Tony McNulty told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "I think we are broadly sympathetic to the thrust of what he [the judge] has said.
"I have said that myself in the past, that there is a real logic and cohesion to the point that says, 'Well, put everybody on'.
"But I think he probably does underestimate the practicalities, logistics and huge civil liberties and ethics issue around that.
"There is no government plans to go to a compulsory database now or in the foreseeable future."
Responding to Lord Sedley's comments, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, said: "Whilst his total disregard for concerns about privacy and civil liberties is misplaced, at least he has the honesty to put forward a suggestion for a universal DNA database.
"This contrasts with the government's cloak and dagger strategy of creating a universal database behind the backs of the British people."
The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, told Today: "I think we have to think very long and very hard before going down the road of a universal DNA database.
"There are some risks involved. This approach can be really intrusive, it raises really fundamental questions about how much the state or the police knows about each of us."