How government plans to use DNA

Why in News?

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018.

 

Background

  • Earlier attempts to frame the Bill were made in 2007, 2015 and 2017, each under a different name.
  • The draft Bill was first named DNA Profiling Bill in 2007 and then Human DNA Profiling Bill in 2015.
  • In July 2017, the Law Commission’s report proposed a new amended draft called ‘DNA based Technology (Use and Regulation) Bill’, 2017, addressing some concerns on privacy and possible misuse.
  • This current Bill is modeled largely on the Law Commission proposal, except for some nominal changes.

 

Important cases where DNA profiling was used

  • Rajiv Gandhi case
  • The tandoor murder case.

 

DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018

Objective

  • To provide for the regulation of use and application of DNA technology for the purposes of establishing identity of certain categories of persons including the victims, offenders, suspects, undertrials, missing persons and unknown deceased persons and for matters connected therewith.

 

Salient Features of the bill:

DNA Regulatory Board:

  • It will certify labs authorised to carry out DNA testing, approve establishment of DNA databanks and supervise their functioning,
  • It will also lay down procedures and guidelines for collection, storing, sharing and deletion of DNA information.
  • The Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology has been made the ex-officio chairman of the proposed DNA Regulatory Board.
  • The head office of the board is to be in the National Capital Region.
  • It will also have regional offices as required.

 

DNA Databank:

  • There will be one National DNA Databank and certain regional DNA Databanks.
  • DNA databank will store DNA profiles received from DNA labs in a specified format.
  • The DNA Databank will have various categories of indices such as crime scene index, suspect index or undertrials index, offenders index, missing persons index.
  • This will help solve and prevent crimes and can also be used for civil matters.

 

Benefits

 

  • The primary intended purpose for enactment of “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill” is for expanding the application of DNA-based forensic technologies to support and strengthen the justice delivery system of the country.
  • The utility of DNA based technologies for solving crimes, and to identify missing persons, is well recognized across the world.
  • By providing for the mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories, the Bill seeks to ensure that with the proposed expanded use of this technology in the country, there is also the assurance that the DNA test results are reliable and the data remain protected from misuse or abuse in terms of the privacy rights of our citizens.
  • Speedier justice delivery.
  • Increased conviction rate.
  • Bill’s provisions will enable the cross-matching between persons who have been reported missing on the one hand and unidentified dead bodies found in various parts of the country on the other, and also for establishing the identity of victims in mass disasters.

 

What are the limitations in the bill?

  • It will only be made available to facilitate the identification of persons in criminal cases in accordance with the rules of admissibility of evidence, to facilitate prosecution or defence, and in investigations relating to civil matters.
  • If a person is not an offender, suspect or undertrial, his/her DNA information cannot be matched with the offenders’ or suspect index.
  • DNA profiles of suspects or undertrials can be removed from the index as per court orders.
  • Samples can be obtained from persons who are witness to a crime, or want to locate their missing relatives, or in similar instances in which they can volunteer, in writing, to offer their DNA samples for a specific purpose. But volunteer samples would not be stored in any index.
  • DNA information cannot be taken from an arrested person without consent. The exception is only for specified offences, though the Bill does not elaborate on this.
  • In case, a suspect or criminal refuses to give consent for DNA collection, and his/her DNA information is considered vital for investigation of a crime, the DNA information can be collected from him/her only with the approval of a magistrate.

 

Safeguard against misuse

  • Disclosure of DNA information to unauthorised persons, or for unauthorised purposes, shall lead to penalties: up to three years in jail and up to Rs 1 lakh as fine.
  • This law cannot use DNA identification in criminal cases, loss of lives, paternity, in a manner which reveals anything about the person’s health. Thus, genetic background is protected, but the person is still identified

 

Concerns

  • Activists and lawyers have argued that India does not have a data protection law and that information like ancestry or susceptibility to a disease, or other genetic traits, is liable to be misused.
  • Privacy concerns and the ethics involved in scientific collection of data.
  • DNA evidence is not foolproof, thus false matches can take place for multiple reasons.
  • It has also been argued that DNA tests have not led to an improvement in conviction rates in countries where legislation is already being followed.

 

DNA profiling/ DNA fingerprinting

  • DNA fingerprinting – sometimes called “DNA testing” or “DNA profiling” – is a method used to identify living things based on samples of their DNA.
  • DNA fingerprinting was invented in 1984 by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys after he realised you could detect variations in human DNA, in the form of these minisatellites.
  • The probability of having two people with the same DNA fingerprint that are not identical twins is very small.
  • Just like your actual fingerprint, your DNA fingerprint is something you are born with, it is unique to you.

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