Access to data only for victim’s or suspect’s relatives

A Bill to create a DNA data centre to profile people accused of serious crimes and unknown deceased is in the works. The proposal was originally mooted in 2007 but was dropped to factor in ethical, moral and legal issues on the sensitive matter.

Crafted by the Department of Biotechnology, it allows Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) profiling for cases of culpable homicide, murder, death by negligence, miscarriage, dowry deaths, causing death of new born child, sexual assault, unnatural offences, outraging the modesty of a woman, co-habitation with a woman by deceit, adultery, enticing a married woman with criminal intent, among others.

Protecting privacy

Addressing issues related to protecting privacy of individuals, the draft Bill envisages that access to the information in the National DNA Data Bank will be restricted to those related to the victim or suspect; any individual undergoing a sentence of imprisonment or death sentence can apply to the court which convicted him, for an order of DNA testing of specific evidence under specific conditions.

The Human DNA Profiling Bill seeks to establish a DNA Profiling Board that will lay down the standards for laboratories, collection of human body substances and custody trail from collection to reporting. It also has a provision for setting up a National DNA Data Bank.

The DNA analysis of body substances that makes it possible to determine whether the source of origin of one body substance is identical to that of another, and to establish the biological relationship, if any, between two individuals.

The “forensic material” from which the DNA sample can be lifted is biological material from the body and represents intimate body samples. They include blood, semen, or any other tissue fluid.

DNA Profiling Board

As envisaged in the Bill, the DNA Profiling Board at the national level, with similar structures at the State level, will be headed by a renowned molecular biologist with the other members being from police, legal, biological and related fields.

It will deliberate and advise on all ethical and human rights issues emanating out of DNA profiling in consonance with the United Nations vis-à-vis the rights and privacy of citizens, civil liberties and issues having ethical and other social implications.

The Board will make recommendations on the use and dissemination of DNA information, ensure the accuracy, security and confidentiality of DNA and guidelines destruction of obsolete, expunged or inaccurate information.

Jail, fine for data misuse

It will also will lay down standards and procedures for establishment and functioning of DNA laboratories and Data Banks and prepare guidelines for storage of biological substances and their destruction. Any misuse of DNA data will attract imprisonment up to three years and monetary fine.

The working draft of the Bill has been sent to the Centre for Internet and Society for analysis and comments. The Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties has already opposed the proposed legislation and sought pre-emptive intervention to stop “dangerous” erosion of privacy by DNA profiling of citizens.

In a representation submitted to the National Human Rights Commission, the Forum has said DNA profiling is “undesirable, particularly as forensic DNA developments are intertwined with significant changes in legislation and contentious issues of privacy, civil liberty and social justice.”

The Forum has sought “immediate intervention to safeguard citizens’ privacy and their civil liberties, which face an unprecedented onslaught from the provisions of the DNA Profiling Bill and other related surveillance measures being bulldozed by unregulated and ungovernable technology.”

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