Brazilian Congress Approves Controversial Database Bill-Civil Society Groups Appeal to the Brazillian President to Reject

by jeeg 4. May 2012 20:56

This week the Brazilian Congress approved Bill 2.458/2011, which regulates the collection and storage of genetic profiles from individuals for criminal investigations. It was an uncommonly fast approval of the Bill – it took only seven months in each House. Due to the risks of the Bill for the privacy of innocent people and to the protection of other human rights, the Center for Technology and Society and GeneWatch UK, addressed the following Open Letter to the Brazilian President and to the Department of  State, requiring that the Bill is rejected in order to be established a broader debate with the participation of civil society and other interested actors guaranteeing legitimacy and public trust in this new technology.




The Center for Technology and Society, at the Rio de Janeiro Law School, at Fundação Getulio Vargas, and the NGO GeneWatch UK, write this Open Letter to express their concerns regarding Bill 2.458/2011, which introduces provisions for the collection and storage of genetic profiles from convicted for crimes committed with violence of serious nature against the person and for heionous crimes (crimes provided in the Article 1 of the Law no 8.072/1990) and from suspects during criminal investigations, in order to create a DNA database (here used as synonym of genetic profiles databases) in Brazil.


Proposed DNA database law is unclear on important safeguards to protect the innocent


We welcome the use of DNA in criminal investigations and the intention to introduce legislation which clarifies the legal basis on which DNA can be collected and retained. However we have a number of serious concerns about the Bill as drafted and about the lack of public consultation.


It is widely agreed that DNA databases require safeguards in order to protect against abuses of the sensitive information they contain and prevent miscarriages of justice occurring due to false or misleading matches between crime scene DNA profiles and individuals’ DNA profiles. Such safeguards include legal restrictions on the collection and retention of DNA (and other linked data) and on how databases and samples may be stored, accessed and used; quality assurance systems and codes of practice for crime scene examiners, laboratories and the courts; and systems of scrutiny and governance to ensure transparency and oversight and to maintain public trust in the use of DNA.


Whilst the Bill includes some important safeguards, such as the need for judicial authorisation and time limits on retention of DNA profiles from convicted persons, other safeguards equally relevant are missing or unclear.


Key concerns include:


(1)    the lack of a specific provision to destroy biological samples (which contain unlimited private genetic information) taken from individuals, once the computerised DNA profiles that are needed for identification purposes have been obtained;

(2)    lack of clarity about the timescale for retention of records  from innocent persons who have had their DNA taken during a police investigation;

(3)    a missed opportunity for wider public consultation and discussion of aspects critical to the successful operation of the database, such as standards for laboratories and the use of DNA evidence in court.


Brazil is at the forefront of adopting this technology for use in criminal investigations in Latin America and has a unique opportunity to lead the way in this important area. People’s DNA profiles can be used to track them or their family and stored biological samples contain additional sensitive genetic information. It is therefore critically important that adequate safeguards are adopted to protect privacy and human rights and sufficient consultation is undertaken to ensure continued public trust in the use of DNA within the criminal justice system.


We therefore urge you to reject the provisions of Bill 2.458/2011 that violate human rights to allow their revaluation and the adoption of a far more inclusive process for the development of this important law, including the involvement of legal experts, civil society and the general public, whose trust is necessary for DNA to be an effective tool against crime.

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