The opposition attacking the draft ‘DNA for forensics’ law is baffling

By: | Published: August 28, 2018 3:44 AM

National and regional databanks will store DNA information under different indices, including crime scene index, suspects/undertrials index, offenders index and missing persons index.

Apart from the boost to crime-solving, the biggest benefit will be for missing persons cases—as per NCRB data, there are 40,000 unidentified bodies in the country. Matching their DNA against members of families that have filed missing persons’ complaints could help give many families much-needed closure. (Representational photo)

Had there been a stricter training and practice protocol for DNA sample collection, testing and recording of findings, many an unsolved crime in the country—including many that became landmarks of investigation failure—wouldn’t have possibly proved as tough to crack. So, it is hard to understand why the principal opposition party, the Congress, is opposing the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2018. More so since the UPA government had originally proposed a similar law a decade ago. The opposition party’s broadsides against the government focus on how DNA records will infringe upon the privacy of individuals, but don’t elaborate how exactly this will occur. The draft law provides for regulations at all levels of use of DNA in forensics. It creates a DNA Regulatory Board that will authorise labs to carry out testing, approve establishment of databanks and oversee their functioning, and define collection, storing, sharing and deletion protocols for DNA information. National and regional databanks will store DNA information under different indices, including crime scene index, suspects/undertrials index, offenders index and missing persons index. It also makes consent central to DNA sample collection, even when a person has been arrested—an exception is provided for exceptional cases, though, without elaborating what such cases will be. In case a suspect refuses to give a sample, such sample may only be obtained after getting approval from the magistrate.

Apart from the boost to crime-solving, the biggest benefit will be for missing persons cases—as per NCRB data, there are 40,000 unidentified bodies in the country. Matching their DNA against members of families that have filed missing persons’ complaints could help give many families much-needed closure. The Bill explicitly states that the DNA data will only be used for the purposes of identification and no other purpose. The data will also be made available within the confines of the rules of admissibility as evidence. Also, except for under suspects and offenders’ index, DNA and corresponding identity details of an individual will not be stored. The Bill also punishes disclosure of DNA data to unauthorised parties/for unauthorised purposes with a three-year jail term and a Rs 1 lakh fine. With such strong safeguards against misuse, it will be folly to trip it up using the privacy bogey.

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