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Concerns Over DNA Bill, 2019

  • 05 Feb 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change has recommended that the government should address the concerns raised over the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019, including over creation of a national databank of crime scene DNA profiles and fears of communities being targeted.

  • While the Bill speaks of regional databanks apart from a central one, the Parliamentary Standing Committee strongly recommends only one National Data Bank, to minimise chances of misuse of data.

Key Points

  • DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 (Key Provisions):
    • The Bill allows the use of the technology to establish the identity of persons in matters of crime, parentage dispute, emigration or immigration and transplantation of human organs.
    • It provides for establishment of national and regional DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) data banks and each databank will maintain crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index and offenders’ index separately.
    • The Bill talks of a DNA Regulatory Board that would advise the Centre and state governments on issues such as setting up of DNA laboratories and databanks; and laying down of guidelines, standards and procedures for the same.
  • Concerns Raised by the Committee:
    • Over DNA Databanks: The risk with a national databank of crime scene DNA profiles is that it will likely include virtually everyone since DNA is left at the 'crime scene' before and after the crime by several persons who may have nothing to do with the crime being investigated.
    • Over DNA Profiling: The DNA profiling to be done under this Bill can be misused to target different segments of the society based on factors like religion, caste or political views.
      • DNA profiling is the process where a specific DNA pattern, called a profile, is obtained from a person or sample of bodily tissue.
    • Storage of DNA Profiles of Unconvicted Persons:
      • The Bill proposes to store DNA profiles of suspects, undertrials, victims and their relatives for future investigations.
      • The Bill also provides that DNA profiles for civil matters will also be stored in the data banks, but without a clear and separate index.
      • The committee has questioned the necessity for storage of such DNA profiles, pointing out that this violates the fundamental right to privacy and does not serve any public purpose.
    • Perfunctory Consent:
      • The Bill refers to consent in several provisions, but in each of those, a magistrate can easily override consent, thereby in effect, making consent perfunctory.
      • There is also no guidance in the Bill on the grounds and reasons of when the magistrate can override consent.
    • Absence of Robust Data Protections:
      • It has questioned the security of a huge number of DNA profiles that will be placed with the National DNA Data bank.
  • Need of the Bill:
    • Greater Demand for Testing:
      • DNA testing is currently being done on an extremely limited scale in India, with approximately 30-40 DNA experts in 15-18 laboratories undertaking less than 3,000 cases per year, which represent 2-3% of the total need.
      • The standards of the DNA testing laboratories are not monitored or regulated, in absence of any proper regulation.
    • Enables Identification of Missing Persons:
      • As per the National Crime Records Bureau, annually 1,00,000 children go missing.
      • The Bill will also help in identifying unidentified deceased, including disaster victims and apprehend repeat offenders for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.
  • Global Scenario Regarding DNA Profiling:
    • According to the USA Interpol’s Global DNA Profiling Survey Results 2016, as many as 69 countries have a national DNA database, including the USA, Canada and China.
      • The countries hold genetic information of at least 35,413,155 individuals.
      • Different countries have different regulations for collection, removal and retention of DNA samples.
    • Declaration on Human Genetic Data, which was adopted unanimously at UNESCO's 32nd General Conference in 2003, aims to ensure the respect of human dignity and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom in collection, processing, use and storage of human genetic data and biological samples.
  • DNA Profiling and Genome India Project (GIP):
    • Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology also approved an ambitious gene-mapping project called the Genome India Project (GIP) which aims to sample and sequence 10,000 genomes in the first phase from across India, to arrive at a representative Indian genome.
    • Gene Mapping is different from DNA profiling as DNA profiling uses small stretches of DNA to identify an individual while gene mapping involves sequencing the whole genome.
    • Gene Mapping is done for scientific and medical uses while DNA profiling is done primarily for forensic and criminal investigation.

Way Forward

  • The Committee recommends an enabling ecosystem must be created soon to ensure that DNA profiling is done in a manner that is fully consistent with the letter and spirit of various Supreme Court judgments and with the Constitution.
  • Prior adoption of a privacy or data protection bill would allow individuals some recourse if their rights were not protected.This is particularly important, especially following the Supreme Court’s Right to Privacy judgment.

Source: IE

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