Back in news: DNA Bill, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Details of the bill

Mains level: DNA profiling and privacy concerns

Noted Parliamentarians have filed a dissent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019.

Q. A statutory protection for private data is necessary for the enforcement of DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019. Critically analyse.

What is the news?

  • The finalized Draft Report recognizes the potential dangers of indexing the DNA profiles of non- convicts, especially convicts and suspects, it has still retained these objectionable provisions.
  • These MPs have claimed that the Bill does not take into account public concerns over privacy violations and targets Dalit, Muslims and Adivasis by way of DNA sample collection.
  • The fear is that the law could be used for caste or community-based profiling.

Other issues

  • The bill would not be a panacea to the problems of an inadequate criminal justice system, the MPs stressed.
  • He flagged the example of the United Kingdom, where the number of crimes solved by DNA evidence had been reducing even though the number of profiles in the system was going up.

DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019

  • The primary intended purpose for the enactment of the 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 identifying missing persons, is well recognized across the world.
  • Other aims include Speedier justice delivery and an Increased conviction rate.
  • Bill’s provisions will enable the cross-matching between persons reported missing and unidentified dead bodies found in various parts of the country, and also for establishing the identity of victims in mass disasters.
  • By providing for the mandatory accreditation and regulation of DNA laboratories, the Bill seeks to ensure the data remain protected from misuse or abuse in terms of the privacy rights of our citizens.
  • The Bill has two major components: the DNA databanks and the DNA Regulatory Board.

Criticisms of the Bill

Matter of Consent

  • Written consent is required from everyone for their DNA samples to be collected, processed, and included in the database except for those who have committed crimes with a punishment of 7+ years or death.
  • However, similarly, specific instruction is missing for the collection of DNA samples for civil matters.
  • Such matters include parentage disputes, emigration or immigration, and transplantation of human organs.
  • The Bill also doesn’t state that the consent has to be voluntary.

Civil Disputes

  • It is not clear if DNA samples collected to resolve civil disputes will also be stored in the databank (regional or national), although there is no index specific for the same.
  • If they will be stored, then the problem cascades because the Bill also does not provide for information, consent, and appeals.
  • If a person’s DNA data has entered the databank, there is no process specified by which they can have it removed.
  • All of these issues together could violate the right to privacy.

The authenticity of DNA Labs

  • There’s also the question of whether the DNA labs accredited by the Regulatory Board are allowed to store copies of the samples they analyze.
  • And if so, how the owners of those samples can ensure the data is safe or needs to be removed from their own indices.
  • It’s unclear if the Regulatory Board will oversee other tests performed at the accredited labs.
  • This could become necessary because, unlike one’s biometric data or PAN number, the human genome contains lots of information about every individual.

Overreaching access to identity

  • So a test undertaken to ascertain a person’s identity by analyzing her DNA will in the process also reveal a lot of other things about that person, including information about their ancestry i.e. information that the individual has a right to keep private.
  • The Bill does not specify which parts of an individual’s DNA can be analyzed to ascertain their identity.
  • The more parts are subjected to analysis, the more conclusively a person’s identity can be established.
  • But this can’t be used as a license to parse more than is necessary because then the DNA lab is also likely to reveal more information than it has the right to seek.

The way forward: Data protection

  • The bill can become oppressive without a robust data protection law.
  • Statutory protection for private data is critical because it provides a mechanism for enforcement of rights, grievance redressal, and independent oversight.
  • When the data being collected is as sensitive as DNA, it requires additional protection.

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