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The DNA Technology Regulation Bill And Its Impact On Privacy

In July of this year, the Lok Sabha introduced the DNA Technology Regulation Bill. Following that, it was forwarded to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology.

Major Provisions

  1. The bill would create guidelines for the use and application of DNA technology to determine the identification of:
  • Missing people
  • Crime victims 
  • Offenders or criminals 
  • In court/accused
  • unidentified deceased people.
  1. The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 aims to expand the use of DNA-based forensic technology to help India’s justice delivery system.
  2. The bill would also ensure the technology’s reliability by requiring all DNA laboratories to be accredited and regulated.
  3. In terms of our residents’ privacy rights, it would also ensure that data is secured from exploitation or abuse.
  4. By allowing the use of DNA evidence, which is regarded as the gold standard in criminal investigations, the proposed legislation will strengthen the criminal justice system.
  5. The creation of National and Regional DNA Data Banks, as proposed in the Bill, will aid forensic investigations.
  6. The law will also assist in the formulation of a uniform code of practice for all DNA testing labs in India.
  7. With proper input from the DNA Regulatory Board, which will be established for the purpose, this will aid in the scientific up gradation and streamlining of the country’s DNA testing activities.
  8. The application of scientifically based technologies would strengthen the current legal system.

The Shortfalls In The Bill

  1. Mis-Use of Sensitive Information:
  • DNA profiles can provide highly sensitive information about a person’s ancestry (pedigree), skin colour, behaviour, illness, health condition, and disease risk.
  • Access to such sensitive data might be used to target individuals and their families with their own genetic information.
  • It could even be used to falsely associate a certain caste or community with criminal activity.
  1. Unconvicted Persons’ DNA Profiles Are Stored:
  • For future investigations, the bill recommends storing DNA profiles of suspects, undertrials, victims, and their families.
  • According to the bill, DNA profiles for civil proceedings will likewise be maintained in the data banks, but without a clear and independent index.
  • The committee has questioned the need for such DNA profiles to be stored, claiming that doing so violates the fundamental right to privacy and serves no public purpose.
  1. Formal Consent:
  • Consent is mentioned in various provisions of the Bill, but in each of them, a magistrate can easily overturn consent, effectively making consent a formality.
  • The Bill also provides no advice on the grounds and reasons for the magistrate’s ability to overturn consent.
  1. Removal Of The Accused’s DNA Profile:
  • The bill allows DNA found at a crime scene to be kept indefinitely, even if the offender’s conviction has been reversed.
  • The committee has suggested that the proposals to destroy biological samples and erase DNA profiles from the database be subjected to independent review.
  1. Data Protection Isn’t Strong Enough:
  • The committee also deemed the bill “premature,” raising concerns about the security of the massive number of DNA profiles that will be stored at the National DNA Data Bank and its regional centres.

Although DNA can be a significant tool in investigating crimes, it requires adequate crime scene assessment, trained and dependable policing, a trusted chain of custody of samples, reliable analysis, and the use of expert evidence in court to use DNA effectively during criminal investigations. As a result, both laboratory quality assurance and crime scene investigation must be overseen. It is also vital to keep the civilian and criminal DNA databases distinct.

Individuals would have some redress if their privacy or data protection rights were not respected if a bill was passed prior to their rights being violated. This is especially essential considering the Supreme Court’s Right to Privacy decision.

The government should also conduct a cost-benefit analysis, as building massive databases is not always the most cost-effective way to solve more crimes, and limited resources must be focused properly.

By Pragati Sengar