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DNA bill can lead to caste and community-based profiling, say Asaddudin Owaisi and Binoy Viswam

The fear is that the law could be used for caste or community based profiling.  

AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen) president Asaddudin Owaisi and CPI leader Binoy Viswam have filed dissent notes to the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019, claiming that it does not take into account their concerns over privacy violations and targets Dalit, Muslims and Adivasis by way of DNA sample collection and indefinite storage as per the new legislation.

The Standing Committee on Science and Technology, headed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, is scheduled to meet on February 1 to discuss and adopt the final report. The bill proposes DNA sampling and profiling of citizens accused of crime or reported missing and storing their unique genetic information for administrative purposes. The fear is that the law could be used for caste or community based profiling.

“It is most regrettable that, while the finalised Draft Report recognises the potential dangers of indexing the DNA profiles of non- convicts, especially convicts and suspects, it has still retained these objectionable provisions,” Mr. Owaisi said in his dissent note. The crime data showed that the Indian criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerated Dalits, Muslims and Adivaşis. With this bill, this targeted discrimination would be encoded into the law, he observed.

The bill ran afoul with the standards that were set in the Puttaswamy and Subramanian Swamy judgements of the Supreme Court. “In the absence of a statutory framework protecting the right to privacy, this bill will cause irreversible damage to individuals’ right to privacy as well as the criminal justice system,” he stated.

The bill would not be a panacea to the problems of an inadequate criminal justice system, he stressed. Here, he flagged the example of the United Kingdom, where the number of crimes solved by DNA evidence had been reducing even though the number of profiles in the system was going up.

Mr. Owaisi argued that the bill cannot come into place without a robust data protection law. “A statutory protection for private data is critical because it provides a mechanism for enforcement of rights, grievance redressal and independent oversight. When the data being collected is as sensitive as DNA, it requires additional protections,” he wrote.

Jairam Ramesh clarifies

Mr. Ramesh has countered Mr. Owaisi’s concerns. In a letter to Mr. Owaisi, which is a part of the report, he said the objective of the bill was not overarching but limited to the establishment of a regulatory board to regulate the use of DNA technology in consonance with international standards.

Mr. Ramesh differed with Mr. Owaisi’s argument on possible privacy violations by the bill and pointed out that even eminent jurists were divided on the issue. More safeguards should be added, he said “as we gain further experience with the use of technology”.

On the question of a data privacy bill before the DNA bill, he said, “frankly I do not see the connection since that Bill deals with a different universe of data. You also suggest that the Data Protection Authority proposed in the Private Data Protection Bill should have oversight over the DNA Regulatory Board in the case of other regulators. One regulator cannot oversee another.”

Mr. Viswam too raised similar concerns. In his dissent note, he said, “Without adequate statutory safeguard to protect against the opacity of the law on the sort of information being collected and its unrestricted usage for a variety of purposes this law is susceptible to future misuse and abuse.” The impact that this law would have on Dalit, Adivasis and religious & gender minority was such that he could not support it, he added.

The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Act, 2019, that has been in works for 15 years now. Nearly 60 countries have enacted similar legislation, with the U.S. bringing in law as far back as 1994.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 11:35:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dna-bill-can-lead-to-castecommunity-based-profiling-owaisi-viswam/article33677524.ece

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