Insights into Editorial: The problems with a DNA registry

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Insights into Editorial: The problems with a DNA registry


 

Introduction:

A DNA database or DNA databank is a database of DNA profiles which can be used in the analysis of genetic diseases, genetic fingerprinting for criminology, or genetic genealogy. DNA databases may be public or private, but the largest ones are national DNA databases.

A centralised DNA database for storing DNA profiles of individuals that enables searching and comparing of DNA samples collected from a crime scene against stored profiles.

The most important function of the forensic database is to produce matches between the suspected individual and crime scene bio-markers, and then provides evidence to support criminal investigations, and also leads to identify potential suspects in the criminal investigation. Majority of the National DNA databases are used for forensic purposes.

 

Context for which DNA database require:

Despite the spate of violent attacks against women, including rapes, in India, very few of the men implicated have been convicted. While identifying the rapist is the first step to serving justice, his identity does not guarantee due punishment or a stiff sentence for the crime.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, only about a quarter of rape cases ended in conviction in 2016. These rates are low in other countries too. The outrage over these attacks has reinforced the belief that India needs a sex offenders’ database or a DNA database of those accused and charged with rape.

 

DNA profiling is used wisely, it can bring major benefits to society:

DNA profiling is a forensic technique which is used to identify a person using his DNA characteristics. The process involves analysing the gathered DNA material collected in order to create a profile of the person.
Government is currently finalising DNA based technology (Use and Regulation) bill 2017 to establish regulatory institutions and standards for DNA testing, and supervise the activities involved.

DNA profiling can help the society as:

  1. It is an accurate and extremely useful in ascertaining the indentity of a person from his DNA sample.
  2. It is being used around the world for crime investigation especially crimes associated with terrorism. In India use of DNA based technology helped solve the Pune blast case by establishing the identity of criminals.
  3. Improve conviction rate in case of crimes where other evidence are not easily available and connect seemingly unrelated crimes.
  4. Apart from criminal investigation, the technology is useful in natural disasters to identify bodies
  5. Establishing identity of missing persons would become easier with the technology.

The use of technology is being opposed as

  1. Privacy concerns have been raised as data may be misused as Aadhar data has already been misused.
  2. Fear that any failure on part of technology or sample contamination may have severe consequences if DNA result taken as ultimate evidence.
  3. Information like ancestry or susceptibility to a disease, or other genetic traits, is liable to be misused.
  4. DNA tests in countries where is being used have not led to improvement in conviction rate.

 

Concern of DNA database:

Protecting innocent people’s privacy and their civil liberties and rights are the main concerns.

Some people have said that having everyone’s DNA in the database would be a good thing, since anyone can be apprehended if matched to a crime scene. But experience with the U.K. and U.S. databanks has shown that having more innocent people’s DNA stored increases the chances of a false positive and has not increased the chances of finding a guilty match.

For Instance, In 2010, the National DNA Database of the U.K. contained DNA profiles and samples from about six million individuals. Later, based on the requirements of the Protection of Freedoms Act of 2012, the U.K. government said that it deleted the profiles of close to 1.8 million innocent adults and children.

 

Regarding a DNA database for India, the following should be ensured:

  • It is absolutely essential that the people from whom DNA is taken give their informed consent; taking DNA surreptitiously should be prohibited.
  • A court order should be required for obtaining DNA without informed consent and the DNA should only be compared with the crime scene DNA for the suspect.
  • Those who are cleared for a crime should not have their DNA information stored, and DNA gathered from offenders should be destroyed after identification so that such information is not used for profiling in future.
  • A court order should be necessary to access medical records for genetic data.

Highlights of the DNA Based Technology (Use and Regulation) Bill, 2017:

DNA profiling Board: Constitution of a DNA Profiling Board, a statutory body to undertake functions such as laying down procedures and standards to establish DNA laboratories and grant accreditation to such laboratories; and advising the concerned ministries/departments of the Central and state governments on issues relating to DNA laboratories.

 

The Board shall also be responsible for supervising, monitoring, inspecting and assessing the laboratories. The Board will frame guidelines for training of the police and other investigating agencies dealing with DNA-related matters. Advising on all ethical and human rights issues relating to DNA testing in consonance with international guidelines will be another function of the Board. It will recommend research and development activities in DNA testing and related issues, etc.

 

Security: DNA profiling would be undertaken exclusively for identification of a person and would not be used to extract any other information.

 

National DNA Data Bank: There shall be a National DNA Data Bank, and Regional DNA Data Banks for the states, to be established by the Central government. The data banks will be responsible for storing DNA profiles received from the accredited laboratories and maintaining certain indices for various categories of data, like crime scene index, suspects’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and unknown deceased persons’ index.

 

Conclusion:

DNA Profiling has immense scope for ensuring quick and effective Justice to People. The need of hour is research and devising ways for proper functioning of these Technologies.

Also, there is need for Effective Regulation in ensuring Justice without compromising with Right to Privacy. Creation of a DNA database has several advantages but raises several issues as well. The government has been making efforts in making a law on the subject with the DNA profiling Bill. DNA technology has also progressed a lot in recent years. All this has made it imperative for us to examine the issues and advantages in detail.

DNA profiling can be a boon if strong and effective safeguards are present against misuse both technologically and legally. DNA profiling cannot substitute a shabby investigation for establishing the criminal offence and has to be used as part of efficient investigative practice.