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Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill (April 2012): High Level Concerns

Posted by Elonnai Hickok at Mar 12, 2013 08:55 AM |
In 2007 the Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill was piloted by the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, with the objective of regulating the use of DNA for forensic and other purposes. In February 2012 another draft of the Bill was leaked. The February 2012 Bill was drafted by the Department of Biotechnology. Another working draft of the Bill was created in April 2012. The most recent version of the Bill seeks to create DNA databases at the state, regional, and national level.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


Each database will contain profiles of victims, offenders, suspects, missing persons and volunteers for the purpose of establishing identity in criminal and civil proceedings. The Bill also establishes a process for certifying DNA laboratories, and creating a DNA board for overseeing the carrying out of the Act. Though it is important to carefully regulate the use of DNA for criminal purposes, and such a law is needed in India, the present working draft of the Bill is lacking important safeguards and contains overreaching provisions, which could lead to violation of individual rights. The text of the 2012 draft is still being discussed and has not been finalized.  Below are high level concerns that CIS has with the April 2012 draft Human DNA Profiling Bill.

Broad offences and instances of when DNA can be collected

The schedule of the Bill lists applicable instances for human DNA profiling and addition to the DNA database. Under this list, the Bill lays out nine Acts, for example the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, and states that offences under these Acts are applicable instances of human DNA profiling. This allows the scope of the database to be expansive, as any individual who has committed an offence found under any of these Acts to be placed on the DNA database, and might include offences for which DNA evidence is not useful.

In the schedule under section C Civil disputes and other civil matters the Bill lists a number of civil disputes and civil matters for which DNA can be taken and entered onto the database. For example:

  • (v) Issues relating to immigration or emigration
  • (vi) Issues relating to establishment of individual identity
  • (vii) Any other civil matter as may be specified by the regulations of the Board

In these instances no crime has been committed and there is no justification for taking the DNA of the individual without their consent. In cases of civil disputes

Recommendation: Offences for which DNA can be collected must be criminal and must be specified individually by the Bill. When DNA is used in civil cases, the consent of the individual must be taken. In civil cases a DNA profile should not be stored on the database. DNA profiling and storage on a database should not be allowed in instances like v, vi, vii listed above.

Inadequate level of authorization for sharing of information

The Bill allows for the DNA Data Bank Manager to determine when it is appropriate to communicate whether the DNA profile received is already contained in the Data Bank, and any other information contained in the Data Bank in relation to the DNA profile received.

  • Section 35 (1): “…shall communicate, for the purposes of the investigation or prosecution in a criminal offence, the following information to a court, tribunal, law enforcement agency, or DNA laboratory in India which the DNA Data Bank Manager considers is concerned with it, appropriate, namely (a) as to whether the DNA profile received is already contained in the Data Bank; and (b) any information, other than the DNA profile received, is contained in the Data Bank in relation to  the DNA profile received.

Recommendation: The Data Bank Manager should not be given the power to determine appropriate instances for the communication of information. Law enforcement agencies, DNA laboratories, etc. should be required to gain prior authorization, from the DNA Board, before requesting the disclosure of information from the DNA Data Bank Manager. Upon receiving proof of authorization, the DNA databank can share the requested information.

Inaccurate understanding of infallibility of DNA

The preamble to the Bill inaccurately states:

The Dexoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) analysis of body substances is a powerful technology that makes it possible to determine whether the source of origin of one body substance is identical to that of another, and further to establish the biological relationship, if any between two individuals, living or dead without any doubt.

Recommendation: The Bill should recognize that DNA evidence is not infallible. For example, false matches can occur based on the type of profiling system used, and that error can take place in the chain of custody of the DNA sample.

The “definition” of DNA profiling is too loose in the Bill. Any technology used to create DNA profiles is subject to error. The estimate of this error should be experimentally obtained, rather than being a theoretical projection.

Inadequate access controls

The Bill only restricts access to information on the DNA database that relates to a victim or to a person who has been excluded as a suspect in relevant investigations.

Section 43: Access to the information in the National DNA Data Bank shall be restricted in the manner as may be prescribed if the information relates to a DNA profile derived from a) a victim of an offence which forms or formed the object of the relevant investigation, or b) a person who has been excluded as a suspect in the relevant investigation.

Recommendation: Though it is important that access is restricted in these instances, access should also be restricted for: volunteers, missing persons, and victims. Broad access to every index in the database should not be permitted when a DNA sample for a crime is being searched for a match. Ideally, a crime scene index will be created, and samples will only be compared to that specific crime scene. The access procedure should be transparent with regular information published in an annual report, minutes of oversight meetings taken, etc.

Lack of standards and process for collection of DNA samples

In three places the Bill mentions that a procedure for the collection of DNA profiles will be established, yet no process is enumerated in the actual text of the Bill.

  • Section 12 (w) “The Board will have the power to… specify by regulation, the list of applicable instances of human DNA profiling and the sources and manner of collection of samples in addition to the lists contained in the Schedule.
  • Section 66(d) “The Central Government will have the power to make Rules pertaining to… The list of applicable instances of human DNA profiling and the sources and manner of collection of samples in addition to the lists contained in the Schedule under clause (w) of section 12.
  • Schedule: In the title “List of applicable instances of Human DNA Profiling and Sources and Manner of Collection of Samples for DNA Profiling”. But the schedule does not detail the manner of collection of samples for DNA profiling.

Recommendation: According to the Criminal Procedure Code, section 53 and 54, DNA samples can only be collected by certified medical professionals. This must be reflected by the Bill. The Bill should also state that the collection of DNA must take place in a secure location and in a secure manner. When DNA is collected, consent must be taken, unless the individual is convicted of a crime for which DNA evidence is directly relevant or the court has ordered the collection. When DNA is collected, personal identification information should not be sent with samples to laboratories, and all transfers of data (from police station to lab) must be secure. Upon collection, information regarding the collection of information and potential use and misuse of DNA information must be provided to the individual.

Inadequate appeal process

The provisions in the Bill allow aggrieved individuals to bring complaints to the DNA Board. If the complaint is not addressed, the individual can take the complaint to the court. Though grievances can be taken to the Board and the court, it is not clear if the individual has the right to appeal the collection, analysis, sharing, and use of his/her DNA. The text of section 58 implies that the Board and the Central government will have the power to take action based on complaints. This power was not listed above in the sections where the powers of the board and the central government are defined, thus it is unclear what actions the Board or the Central Government would be able to take on complaint.

Section 58: No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act or any rules or regulations made thereunder save on a complaint made by the Central Government or its officer or Board or its officer or any other person authorized by them: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall prevent an aggrieved person from approaching a court, if upon his application to the Central Government or the Board, no action is taken by them within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the application.

Recommendation: Individuals should be allowed to appeal a decision to collect DNA or share a DNA profile, and take any grievance directly to the court. If the Board or the Central Government will have a role in hearing complaints, etc. These must be enumerated in the provisions of the Act.

Inclusion of population testing

Though the main focus of the Bill is for the use of DNA in criminal and civil cases, the provisions of the Bill also allow for population testing and research to be done on collected samples.

Section 4: The Board shall consist of the following Members appointed from amongst persons of ability, integrity, and standing who have knowledge or experience in DNA profiling including.. (m) A population geneticist to be nominated by the President, Indian National Science Academy, Den Delhi-Member.

Section 40: Information relating to DNA profiles, DNA samples and records relating thereto shall be made available in the following instances, namely, (e) for creation and maintenance of a population statistics database that is to be used, as prescribed, or the purposes of identification research, protocol development or quality control provide that it does not contain any personally identifiable information and does not violate ethical norms.

Recommendation: Delete these provisions. If DNA testing is going to done for population analysis purposes, regulations for this must be provided for in a separate legislation, stored in separate database, informed consent taken from each participant, and an ethics board must be established. It is not sufficient or ethical to conduct population testing only on DNA samples from victims, offenders, suspects, and volunteers.

Provisions delegated to regulation that need to be incorporated into text of Bill

The Bill empowers the board to formulate regulations for, and the Central Government to make Rules to, a number of provisions that should be within the text of the Bill itself. By leaving these provisions to Regulations and Rules, the Bill is a skeleton which when enacted will only allow for DNA Labs to be certified and DNA databases to be established.  Aspects that need to be included as provisions include:

Section 12: The Board shall exercise and discharge the following functions for the purposes of this Act namely

  • Section 12(j) – authorizing procedures for communication of DNA profile for civil proceedings and for crime investigation by law enforcement and other agencies.
  • Section 12(p) – making specific recommendations to (ii) ensure the accuracy, security, and confidentiality of DNA information, (iii) ensure the timely removal and destruction of obsolete, expunged or inaccurate DNA information (iv) take any other necessary steps required to be taken to protect privacy.
  • Section 12(w) – Specifying, by regulation, the list of applicable instances of human DNA profiling and the sources a manner of collection of samples in addition to the lists contained in the Schedule.
  • Section 12(u) – establishing procedure for cooperation in criminal investigation between various investigation agencies within the country and with international agencies.
  • Section 12(x) – Enumerating the guidelines for storage of biological substances and their destruction.

Section 65(1) The Central Government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act

  • Section 65 (c) – The officials who are authorized to receive the communication pertaining to information as to whether a person’s DNA profile is contained in the offenders’ index under sub-section (2) of section 35
  • Section 65 (d) – The manner in which the DNA profile of a person from the offenders’ index shall be expunged under sub-section (2) of section 37
  • Section 65 (e) – The manner in which the DNA profile of a person from the offender’s index shall be expunged under sub-section (3) of section 37
  • Section 65 (h) – The manner in which access to the information in the DNA data Bank shall be restricted under section 43
  • Section 65 (zg) – Authorization of other persons, if any, for collection of non-intimate forensic procedures under Part II of the Schedule.

Broad Language that needs to be specified or deleted

There are a number of places in the Bill which use broad and vague language. This is problematic as it expands the potential scope of the Bill. Instances where broad language is used includes:

Preamble:  There is, thus, need to regulate the use of human DNA Profiles through an Act passed by the Parliament only for Lawful purposes of establishing identity in a criminal or civil proceeding and for other specified purposes.

  • Section 12: The Board may make regulations for (j) authorizing procedures for communications of DNA profile for civil proceedings and for crime investigation by law enforcement and other agencies.
  • Section 12: The Board may make regulations for (y) undertaking any other activity which in the opinion of the Board advances the purposes of this Act.
  • Section 12: The Board may make regulations for (z) performing such other functions as may be assigned to it by the Central Government from time to time.
  • Section 32: The indices maintained under sub-section (4) shall include information of data based on DNA analysis prepared by a DNA laboratory duly approved by the Board under section 15 of the Act and of records relating thereto, in accordance with the standards as may be specified by the regulations made by the Board.
  • Section 35 (1) On receipt of a DNA profile for entry in the DNA Data Bank, the DNA Data Bank Manager shall cause it to be compared with the DNA profiles in the DNA Data Bank and shall communication, for purposes of the investigation or prosecution in a criminal offence, the following information…(a) as to whether the DNA profile received is already contained in the Data Bank and (b) any information other than the DNA profile received, is contained in the Data Bank in relation to the DNA profile received. (2) The information as to whether a person’s DNA profile is contained in the offenders’ index may be communicated to an official who is authorized to receive the same as prescribed.
  • Section 39: All DNA profiles and DNA samples and records thereof shall be used solely for the purpose of facilitating identification of the perpetrator of a specified offence under Part I of the Schedule. Provided that such profiles or samples may be used to identify victims of accidents or disasters or missing persons or for purposes related to civil disputes and other civil matters listed in Part 1 of the Schedule for other purposes as may be specified by the regulations made by the board.
  • Section 40: Information relating to DNA profiles, DNA samples and records relating thereto shall be made available in the following instances, namely (g) for any other purposes, as may be prescribed.
  • Schedule, C Civil disputes and other civil matters vii) any other civil matter as may be specified y the regulations made by the Board.

Recommendation: All broad and vague language should be deleted and replaced with specific language.

Jurisdiction

  • Section 1(2) It extends to the whole of India.
  • Section 2(f) “Crime scene index” means an index of DNA profiles derived from forensic material found (i) at any place (whether within or outside of India) where a specified offence was, or is reasonably suspected of having been, committed.

The validity of DNA profiles found outside of India is unclear as the Act only extends to the whole of India.

Inconsistent provisions

The Bill contains provisions that are inconsistent including:

  • Preamble … from collection to reporting and also to establish a National DNA Data Bank and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • Section 32 (1) The Central Government shall, by notification establish a National DNA Data Bank and as many Regional DNA Data Banks there under for every State or a group of States, as necessary. (2) Every State Government may, by notification establish a State DNA Data Bank which shall share the information with the National DNA Data Bank. The National DNA Data Bank shall receive DNA data from State DNA Data Banks…

Recommendation: The introduction to the Bill states that only a National DNA Data Bank will be established, yet in the provisions of the Bill it states that Regional and State level DNA databanks will also be established. It should be clarified in the introduction to the Bill that state level, regional level, and a national level DNA database will be created.

Inadequate qualifications of DNA Data Bank Manager

Section 33: “The DNA Data Bank Manager shall be a person not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India or equivalent and he shall report to the Member –Secretary of the Board. The DNA Data Bank Manager shall be a scientist with understanding of computer applications and statistics.

Recommendation: This is not sufficient qualifications. The DNA Data Bank Manager needs to have experience and expertise handling, working with, and managing DNA for forensic purposes.

Lack of restrictions on labs seeking certification

According to section 16(2), before withdrawing approval granted to a DNA laboratory...the Board will give time to the laboratory...for taking necessary steps to comply with such directions...and conditions.”
Recommendation: This section should specify that during the time period of gaining certification, the DNA laboratory is not allowed to process DNA.

Incomplete terms for use of DNA in courts

Section 45 of the Bill allows any individual undergoing a sentence of imprisonment or under sentence of death to apply to the court which convicted him for an order for DNA testing. The Bill lists seven conditions that must be met for this DNA evidence to be accepted and used in court.
Recommendation: This section speaks only to the use of DNA in courts upon request by a convicted individual. This section should lay down standards for all instances of use of DNA in courts. Included in this, the provision should clarify that when DNA is used, corroborating evidence will be required in courts, and if confirmatory samples will be taken from defendants. Individuals should also have the right to have a second sample taken and re-analyzed as a check, and individuals must have a right to obtain re-analysis of crime scene forensic evidence in the event of appeal.

Inadequate privacy protections

Besides section 38 which requires that all DNA profiles, samples, and records are kept confidential, the Bill leaves all other privacy protections to be recommended by the DNA profiling Board.

Section 12(o) The Board shall exercise and discharge the following functions…“Making recommendation for provision of privacy protection laws, regulations and practices relating to access to, or use of, store DNA samples or DNA analyses with a view to ensure that such protections are sufficient.”

Recommendation: Basic privacy protections such as access, use, and storage of DNA samples should be written into the provisions of the Bill and not left as recommendations for the Board to make.

Missing Provisions

  1. Notification to the individual: There are no provisions that ensure that notification is given to an individual if his/her information is legally accessed or shared. Notification to the individual would be appropriate in section 36, which allows for the sharing of DNA profiles with foreign states, and section 35, which allows for the sharing of information with a court, tribunal, law enforcement agency, or DNA laboratory. As part of the notification, an individual should be given the right to appeal the decision.
  2. Consent: There are no provisions which speak to consent being taken from individuals whose DNA is collected. Consent must be taken from volunteers, missing persons (or their families), victims, and suspects. DNA can be taken compulsorily from offenders after they have been convicted. If an individual refuses to provide a DNA sample, a judge can override the decisions and order that a DNA sample be taken. In all cases that DNA is collected without consent, it must be clear that DNA evidence is directly relevant to the case.
  3. Right to request deletion of DNA profile from database: There are no provisions which give volunteers (children volunteers when they become adults), victims, and missing persons the right to request that their profile be deleted from the DNA database. This could be provided in section 37 which speaks to the expunction of records of acquitted convicts.
  4. Right of individuals to bring a private cause of action: There are no provisions which give the individual the right to bring a privacy cause of action for the unlawful storage of private information in the national, regional, or state DNA database. This is an important check against the unlawful collection, analysis, and storage of private genetic information on the database.
  5. Right to review one's personal data: There are no provisions that allow an individual to review his/her information contained on the state, regional, or national database. This is an important check against the unlawful collection, analysis, and storage of private genetic information on the database.
  6. Independence of DNA laboratories and DNA banks from the police: There are no provisions which ensure that DNA laboratories and DNA data banks remain independent from the police. This is an important check in ensuring against the tampering of DNA evidence.
  7. Established profiling standard: The Bill does not mandate the use of one single profiling standard. This is important in order to minimize false matches occurring by chance and to ensure consistency across DNA testing and profiling.
  8. Destruction of DNA samples: There are no provisions mandating that original samples of DNA be deleted. DNA samples should be destroyed once the DNA profiles needed for identification purposes have been obtained from them – allowing for sufficient time for quality assurance (six months). Furthermore, only a barcode and no identifying details should be sent to labs with samples for analysis.

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