Panel wants a redress mechanism for individuals; national database

An expert group on piracy has called for a redress mechanism for individuals whose DNA is illegally used or collected, or to prevent offences committed by the DNA profiling board, which has been provided under the proposed Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2012.

Individuals should be given a private cause of action for unlawful DNA collection and unlawful storage of private information in the national database, says the report of the government-appointed group released last week.

“A process of appeals against the retention of data should also be made available to individuals, and individuals should be able to have a second sample taken and reanalysed in court,” says the group, which is chaired by the former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, A.P. Shah. No process has been provided to verify the correctness of the analysis and the information parked in the database.

The report covers national and international privacy principles and the emerging issues, besides an analysis of relevant legislation.

The bill, being piloted by the Department of Biotechnology, plans to legalise collection and analysis of the DNA samples of offenders, suspects, missing persons, unknown deceased persons and “volunteers” for forensic purposes. This list may be expanded through regulations made under the bill.

It provides for a national database of DNA profiles, a DNA profiling board, and the sharing of DNA profiles of criminals with other countries in a bid to tackle terrorism. It seeks to establish standards for laboratories, staff qualification and body substances collection; policies of use; and access to, and retention and deletion of, DNA samples.

The report points out that samples collection must be done with consent (from a victim or for the purpose of elimination), and circumstances wherein collection takes place without consent (for example, from crime scenes) should be distinguished. The DNA data bank has been entitled to holding volunteer indices. However, no procedure for consent requirement, and no mechanism for volunteers to withdraw their information if they so desire, have been provided.

The proposed law should require that notice be given to individuals and their consent taken if their information is disclosed to a third party, unless the disclosure is sought by authorised agencies, the report says. “Bodies and organisations collecting, analysing and storing DNA samples should publish a transparency report, on an annual basis, detailing their internal governance structure, practices, finances and success and error rates.”

Another important recommendation made by the group is that wherever applicable, notice of the purpose for collection of DNA samples and personal information must be made public and the use of samples and personal information should be limited to the purposes and time frame specified under the bill. A procedure should also be established for the destruction of all samples and personal information after they have served their purpose.

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