Andhra Pradesh working on system to DNA-tag convicts

State drafting legislation that will enable collection of genetic fingerprints to solve crime, track offenders.

February 03, 2017 12:04 am | Updated 01:22 am IST - NEW DELHI:

The Andhra Pradesh government plans to bring in legislation that will allow the State police and investigating agencies to collect and store DNA samples in a centralised database. The move has come in for close scrutiny, as the Centre first prepared a draft bill on the issue in 2012, but the legislation ran into severe opposition from activists on the ground that it violated privacy. It has since been on hold.

“We would like to move quickly on this and are consulting international experts to draft a State law,” Dwaraka Tirumala Rao, Additional Director-General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, told The Hindu over phone. “We will likely have our law [enabling this] before the Centre does.”

In August last year, the AP government, in an event attended by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, launched a DNA collection-kit developed by IntegenX, Inc, a US company that enables DNA to be extracted from saliva and blood samples within a matter of two hours.

Focus on sex crimes

The reasoning is that a centralised DNA database on convicts would help track repeat offenders in sexual assault and rape.

Tim Schellberg, President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, a US-based firm that governments are consulting on setting up DNA databases, said he had held discussions with Andhra Pradesh and “several other State governments” six months ago. “There were some meetings but a lot of work still needs to be done,” he said.

The Centre’s Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2015, was prepared by the Department of Biotechnology and the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA-Fingerprinting and Diagnostics but is yet to be cleared by the Union Cabinet. Several organisations and individuals, however, raised concerns that the bill gave sweeping powers to government to mine the database and use it for purposes beyond just solving crime.

Global experience

“So far, about 70 million samples have been collected in 54 countries over 20 years, and there have been no instances of databases being compromised,” said Mr. Schellberg, “

Other experts in Andhra Pradesh familiar with the use of DNA databases for forensic purposes, said State officials were relying on “extremely expensive technology” and a database wouldn’t be useful without supportive Central legislation.

“Technology exists that costs only about a fourth. To prepare a database, one doesn’t need a 2-hour profiling kit,” said a DNA-expert familiar with the AP government’s plans.

“Also we need to first train people in collecting DNA from crime scenes and storing them properly. A database can come later,” the expert added.

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