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RSTV IAS UPSC – DNA Technology Bill

  • IASbaba
  • July 20, 2019
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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DNA Technology Bill

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In News: The DNA Technology Regulation Bill, which seeks to control the use of DNA technology for establishing the identity of a person, was introduced in the Lok Sabha amid questions being raised by opposition parties on its provisions. A similar bill was passed in Lok Sabha in January but it could not be cleared in the Rajya Sabha. The bill had then lapsed with the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha. 

The proposed law, which has been in the making since at least 2003, is the third attempt by the government to enact a law to regulate the use of DNA technology in the country after an earlier version of the Bill had been finalised in 2015 but could not be introduced in parliament. The congress was against the introduction of the bill, raising privacy and other concerns. 

Opposing the introduction of the bill, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, the bill violates fundamental rights as DNA of undertrials can be collected without court orders. Describing the draft law as “flawed”, he said there is no provision of consent on the storage of DNA data. Shashi Tharoor (Cong) alleged that the bill will institutionalise a “surveillance state” and suggested that first a data protection law should be put in place. “You cannot put the cart before the horse,” he said.

The Minister for science and technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who introduced the Bill however rejected the concerns raised by the opposition saying there is “no serious substance”. 

Ministry: Science and Technology and Earth Sciences

DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019

The primary intended purpose of  “The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019” is for expanding the application of DNA-based forensic technologies to support and strengthen the justice delivery system of the country.

The Bill seeks to create a regulatory framework for obtaining, storing and testing of DNA samples of human beings, mainly for the purposes of criminal investigations, and with the objective of establishing the identity of a person. DNA testing is already being used for a variety of purposes, such as criminal investigations, establishment of parentage, and search for missing people. The proposed law seeks to bring in a supervisory structure to oversee these practices, and frame guidelines and rules so that the DNA technology is not misused.

To achieve these objectives, the bill proposes to set up two institutional structures — a DNA regulatory board, and a DNA data bank — at the national level. 

Regional centres of the board as well as the data bank can be set up at the state level as well.

DNA Data Bank: The bill envisages that every data bank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and unknown deceased persons’ index. 

DNA Regulatory Board: Every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual, has to be accredited by the board. 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 this country, there is also the assurance that the DNA test results are reliable, and furthermore that the data remain protected from misuse or abuse in terms of the privacy rights of our citizens.

Under the bill –

  • A written consent by individuals is required to collect DNA samples from them. Consent is not required for offences with punishment of more than seven years of imprisonment or death. 
  • DNA samples can be collected from the objects found at the crime scene, or from the body of the accused or volunteer. The samples, collected by an authorised technician or medical practitioner, would have to be sent to an accredited laboratory for tests and analysis. The information generated from these tests would have to be mandatorily shared with the nearest DNA data bank, which in turn, would be required to share it with the national data bank.
  • It also provides for removal of DNA profiles of suspects on filing of a police report or court order, and of undertrials on the basis of a court order. Profiles in the crime scene and missing persons’ index will be removed on a written request.
  • Under the provisions, the data banks are required to store the information under one of the five indices — a crime scene index, a suspect or undertrial index, an offenders’ index, a missing persons’ index, and an unknown deceased persons’ index. Although information from DNA can yield a lot of information about the person, the data banks are supposed to store only that information that is necessary to establish the identity of the person. While the information in the crime scene index can be stored permanently, entries in other indices can be removed through processes prescribed.
  • People whose DNA samples have been collected, either from the crime scene, or through voluntary written consent, can also request the removal of their information from the index. DNA samples of people who are not suspects or undertrials cannot be matched with already stored information in the suspects/undertrial index or the offenders’ index.

The proposed legislation will empower the criminal justice delivery system by enabling the application of DNA evidence, which is considered the gold standard in crime investigations. Establishment of the National and Regional DNA Data Banks, as envisaged in the Bill, will assist in forensic investigations.

The debate

The main debate over the proposed law has been around three issues — 

  1. Whether the DNA technology is fool-proof
  2. Whether the provisions adequately address the possibility of abuse of DNA information
  3. Whether the privacy of the individual is protected

DNA information can be extremely revelatory. It can not only establish a person’s identity but also reveal a lot about physical and biological attributes of the person like eye, hair or skin colour, susceptibility to diseases, possible medical history, and possible clues to biological relatives. For years, critics of the Bill have been claiming that collecting and storing such intrusive information could lead to abuse, besides being violative of a person’s privacy.

The government, on the other hand, has been arguing that since DNA tests are already happening, and frequently used as the most reliable tool to establish identity, it would be better to have regulatory safeguards so that it is carried out only in prescribed manner and by authorised personnel and institutions. The text of the Bill has undergone several changes over the years to address some of the concerns on privacy and the possibility of abuse.

Conclusion: 

The proposed Bill will give a fillip to the development of uniform code of practices in all laboratories involved in DNA testing throughout the country .This  will aid in scientific up gradation and streamlining of the DNA testing activities in the country with appropriate inputs from the DNA Regulatory Board which would be set up for the purpose. It is expected that the expanded use of this scientifically driven technology would empower the existing justice delivery system.

Do you know?

  • The genes encoded in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which can be collected from blood, hair, skin cells and other such bodily substances, have undoubtedly proven to be an important tool in forensic science.
  • Much like fingerprints, a person’s DNA profile is unique (except in the case of identical twins) and can, therefore, help in establishing the identity of, say, a suspect.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure in 2005 authorises investigating officers of a crime to collect a DNA sample from an accused with the help of a medical practitioner.

Connecting the dots:

  1. The DNA technology (use and application) Bill, 2018 can establish a balance between right to privacy and right to justice. Evaluate with suggestions.

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