The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative, a project of the Council for Responsible Genetics, GeneWatch UK and Privacy International, is an international project to raise awareness of the privacy and human rights issues associated with the global growth of forensic DNA databases. FGPI works with civil society organizations in countries around the world to build their capacity to engage in public policy on this issue.
FGPI recently returned from a very successful trip to India which was hosted by The Center for Internet and Society, a partner based in Bangalore, to assist in raising awareness and reaching out to key stakeholders, civil society, the media, students, academics, and the public about India's pending database legislation.
Originally drafted in 2007 and updated earlier this year, India's Draft DNA Profiling Bill would create a massive database of the population, including individuals both arrested for and convicted of virtually any type of crime, and allow for permanent retention of their biological samples as well as the profiles derived from them. It contains no privacy protections but rather vests the authority to determine what, if any, privacy protections should be created in a government-appointed board that has sweeping oversight powers. Perhaps most alarmingly, the draft bill would create additional repositories for DNA collected for everything from civil cases to missing persons and unidentified bodies, all of which would be linked without clearly defined limitations.
During our visit to Bangalore and New Delhi, we spoke at twelve different meetings, including two public talks, one closed door meeting, two public lectures at universities, a national press conference, and six personal meetings. Our visit, which was covered by the Indian media, allowed us to connect to key stakeholders and raise public awareness. As a result of our visit we have connected with the Department of Biotechnology, which is piloting the bill; the National Crime Records Bureau, which is responsible for consolidating crime records at a national level; former directors of Indian intelligence agencies; members of the Indian Parliament; DNA forensic specialists; key activists and journalists; and concerned civil society organizations.
As a result of our visit, the legislation is dead in its tracks as a re-evaluation is being undertaken at the highest levels of Indian government and society. We are now seeing significant and critical attention to the bill in the press and policy forums and a real national conversation is beginning. Now a dozen grassroots organizations in India are monitoring the situation and advocating for reform. We will continue to work through our growing list of civil society partners in India to ensure that there is informed engagement in the discussions as the bill proceeds through Parliament.
Jeremy Gruber, JD, is President of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
To learn more about the Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative, visit www.dnapolicyinitiative.org.