Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018
Mains level: Understanding the importance of DNA Profiling in curbing crime in India.
- The Bill that provides for regulation of use and application of DNA technology for establishing the identity of certain categories of persons, including offenders, victims, suspects and undertrials, was passed in Lok Sabha.
What it aims to bring?
- The use of DNA data is also likely to be useful in quickly identifying missing persons and resolving criminal cases in which repeat offenders might be involved.
- This includes offences under the IPC, 1860, as well as offences under other laws such as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018
- The primary intended purpose for 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 to identify missing persons, is well recognized across the world.
- Other aims include Speedier justice delivery and 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.
- There will be two kinds of databanks: a national one and multiple regional ones.
- Every databank will maintain DNA data in one of the following categories: the crime scene index, the suspects’ or undertrials’ index, the offenders’ index, the missing persons’ index and an ‘unknown’ deceased persons’ index.
DNA Regulatory Board
- The Regulatory Board will comprise 12 members.
- Some of them will be experts in the field of biological sciences, whereas the others will be the director-general of the NIA, the directors of the CBI, the heads of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, and a member of the NHRC.
- The principal responsibility of the Board will be to accredit DNA-testing labs from which data can be collected for the databank and ensure they maintain high quality standards at all times.
- But in light of recent privacy and surveillance issues, the Board’s responsibility towards ensuring the DNA data is stored securely, used properly and only for identification purposes will also be under close watch.
Matter of Consent
- Written consent is required from everyone for their DNA samples to be collected, processed and included in the database except from those who have committed crimes with punishment of 7+ years or death.
- However, a 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.
- Second, it’s 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.
Authenticity of DNA Labs
- Third, there’s also the question of whether the DNA labs accredited by the Regulatory Board are allowed to store copies of the samples they analyse.
- 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 analysing her DNA will in the process also reveal a lot of other things about that person, including information about their ancestry, diseases to which they are susceptible, etc. – 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 analysed 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.