Indian Government bill aims to build pool of DNA samples of ‘offenders’; experts fear possible misuse

by jeeg 1. October 2012 21:48

The government plans to introduce a bill in Parliament that aims to create a pool of “DNA profiles” of “offenders” as part of efforts to make crime detection more effective in the country. However, many experts warn of likely misuse of such sweeping powers.


The proposed DNA Profiling Bill – first mooted by lawmakers in 2007 – will give the Centre powers to collect DNA samples of everybody involved in all civil and criminal cases, including suspects. The bill will also cover people who undergo abortion, fight paternity suits and receive or donate organs.

The DNA profile of an individual will be deleted if that person were to be acquitted after the trial.

DNA profiling or testing is considered the best method to identify a person. DNA is a hereditary material unique to each individual and recording this genetic code aids in easy detection of a person’s identity. Besides, since an individual gets 50% of one’s DNA from each of one’s parents, this code can be used to identify parents, siblings and relatives of an individual. An individual’s DNA can be collected from body fluids, hair or even from a wine glass or spoon he or she just used.

The bill, which has been circulated to all Union ministries for their feedback and comments, says an individual punished by the court can demand DNA testing to prove his innocence.

GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit group, had said in a report that using DNA to “trace people who are suspected of committing a crime has been a major advance in policing”.

Adds the report: “When DNA profiling is used wisely, it can help convict people who have committed serious crimes or exonerate people who are innocent. However, concerns arise when individuals’ tissue samples, computerised DNA profiles and personal data are stored indefinitely on a DNA database. There are concerns that this information could be used in ways that threaten people’s individual privacy and rights and that of their families,” the report said.

According to the DNA Profiling Bill, the penalties for misuse of data collected by official agencies include imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 10,000.

The Centre expects to use the “DNA database” for crime detection, in judicial proceedings for admissibility of evidence and for facilitating decisions in cases.

Concerns Over Individual Privacy

Interestingly, the Bill also adds that “the data will be used for creation of population statistics for the purpose of identification, research, protocol development or quality control…”

While the government is excited about the prospects of collecting such data, several social activists and NGOs warn the bill in its current form threatens individual privacy and rights.

The US-based Council for Responsible Genetics points out that the bill defines the crucial term “suspect as anyone suspected of having committed an offence”. It has also highlighted that the crimes for which DNA can be collected range from “rape to offences relating to dowry, defamation, and unnatural offences”.

“Taken together, the government is empowered to conduct genetic testing on almost anyone in any way connected with even minor infractions of the criminal law,” the Council for Responsible Genetics said.

The organisation has also warned that India’s DNA Profiling Bill gives the police direct access to all the information contained in the national DNA database.

“While administratively expedient, this arrangement opens up the possibility for misuse. A more prudent system would place the Board (or some administrative subordinate portion thereof) between the police and the content of the DNA database, with the latter having to make specific and particular requests to the former,” it added, emphasising that the provision in the bill that permits the “data bank manager” to grant access to the database to “any person or class of persons which he/she considers appropriate” is violative of all norms.

“This is a sweeping provision. It vests in one individual the ability to permit almost anyone access to the DNA database-without administrative review or oversight of any kind. Taken together with the general lack of administrative safeguards in the bill, this places the government’s interest in investigating crime far above individual privacy rights,” the Council for Responsible Genetics said in a note circulated on Thursday.

For its part, the UK’s GeneWatch said the proposed bill is ambiguous “on when DNA is going to be collected or what proportion of the Indian population is likely to end up on the DNA database”.

Joji Thomas Philip, Economic Times of India


Comments are closed
Log in