In a significant development for India’s law enforcement apparatus, the Union Cabinet has cleared the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018, which allows for the collection of DNA samples, the creation of “DNA profiles” and special data banks for forensic criminal investigations, reported The Hindu.
The stated objective of this draft legislation is to expand the application of DNA-based forensic technologies for the purpose of supporting and strengthening the justice delivery system of the country, says the Union government’s Department of Biotechnology.
Experts have long spoken about the utility of such technologies to solve crimes and to identify missing persons. India is among the last major countries which haven’t yet adopted DNA profiling for the above-stated purposes.
However, there is opposition to this bill, and members of civil society raising concerns about the manner in which DNA information is collected and stored by forensic laboratories. They fear that tissue samples, genetic information and personal data could be stored indefinitely on a DNA database, leaving it ripe for government agencies to misuse and threaten a person’s rights.
“This doesn’t aim to create a database of DNA profiles…The databank can only store information related to criminal investigations, and the DNA details of suspects will be deleted,” said Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, to The Hindu.
These are some of the key features of this bill:
1) DNA profiling will only be used for the identification of a person, and not to extract any other information. No bodily substance will be extracted without the subject’s consent.
2) Setting up of DNA Profiling Board: A statutory body which will oversee and inspect accredited DNA labs. It is also the final authority sanctioning the creation of State-level DNA databanks.
30 Creation DNA Data Banks: These banks will be created on both a National and State level. They will be responsible for storing DNA profiles sent by accredited laboratories.
Those violating the provisions of the bill will face imprisonment of up to three years, including a fine.
The benefits of such profiling are clear—assist in the conviction of serious criminals, link seemingly unconnected crimes and in certain cases, prevent crimes. It can also be used by the authorities to identify missing people following a natural disaster.
But safeguards have to be put in place. In India, where there are fewer checks and balances on law enforcement agencies, strict safeguards have to be in place such that citizens aren’t unduly harassed. As they say, information is power.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)