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EditorialsEditorial: Privacy concerns over national DNA database

Editorial: Privacy concerns over national DNA database

Published: 5th Feb 2021 2:01 am

It is as essential to embrace new technologies in improving the delivery of citizen services as it is to ensure that they don’t end up infringing on privacy rights. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology has rightly flagged the privacy issues arising out of the proposed DNA Technology Regulation Bill, coming up for consideration in the ongoing Parliament session. Though the new legislation is aimed at creating a national DNA database for use by the law enforcement agencies in solving crimes and identifying missing persons, enough safeguards need to be incorporated as the law provides sweeping powers to the police. Although DNA can be a key tool in solving crimes, it is important to have provisions to prevent a miscarriage of justice. The DNA profiles can reveal extremely sensitive information of an individual and could be misused for caste/community-based profiling, thereby compromising the privacy of individuals. Also, questions are being raised on how the Bill plans to safeguard the privacy of DNA profiles stored in the databanks. It is, therefore, essential to first create an enabling ecosystem 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. However, the fears of misuse do not negate the need for such legislation especially when the DNA technology is already in use across several areas. In order to address the apprehensions, there is a need for independent and impartial checks and balances at every stage of the process.

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DNA fingerprinting is a forensic tool that is being used in India without a proper legal framework. This Bill provides the legal basis to establish a DNA databank to house the DNA profiles of suspects, criminals and unidentified bodies. The main purpose is to enable identification of missing children, unidentified deceased individuals, including disaster victims, apprehend repeat offenders for heinous crimes, develop stringent standards and quality assurance system to grant approval and accreditation to the laboratories undertaking DNA profiling and regulate the use of DNA profiles in establishing identity in criminal and civil proceedings. Once enacted, the DNA technology law would lead to the establishment of a DNA Regulatory Board which will advise the Centre and States on all issues relating to setting up of DNA laboratories and DNA databanks. No doubt, creating a DNA database could in the long run expedite justice but it must be supported by robust infrastructure and people’s trust. Without these essential pillars, it could well damage the justice system which is already facing a crisis of confidence. Before enacting such laws, there has to be a significant improvement in capacity-building regarding collection and use of DNA for forensic purposes.

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