The DNA Profiling Bill 2007 and Privacy

Posted by Elonnai Hickok at Apr 25, 2011 11:30 AM |
In 2007 a bill known as the Draft DNA Profiling Bill was piloted by the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, an autonomous organization funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. The below is a background to DNA collection/analysis in India, and a critique of the Bill a from a privacy perspective.

Introduction

In 2007 a bill known as the Draft DNA Profiling Bill was piloted by the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, an autonomous organization funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India[1]. The Bill is pending in parliament. The DNA Profiling Bill looks to legalize the collection and analysis of DNA samples for forensic purposes. We believe that it is important that collection of DNA has associated legislation and regulation, because DNA is sensitive physical evidence that if used correctly can benefit the public good, but if misused can lead to serious privacy and human rights violations. Therefore it is important to create a balance between the constitutional rights of an individual and the public interest and bring accountability and transparency to the practice of DNA collection and testing.

In our research we consulted with GeneWatch UK to learn from their work and experience with DNA testing in the UK. This briefing is meant to give a background on the logistics of DNA testing, highlight ways in which DNA testing raises privacy concerns, and provide a critique of the DNA Profiling Bill.

Background Facts about DNA and DNA testing:


What is DNA: DNA is material that determines a persons hereditary traits such as hair color, eye color, body structure etc. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus, and wrapped up in small structures called chromosomes. Every person inherits 50% of genetic material from their mother and 50% from their father. Genetic disorders  are caused by mutations in a person's DNA, and comparing DNA within families can reveal paternity and non-paternity. DNA is found in every cell of our bodies, and each person has a unique strand of DNA [2]. Thus, DNA is seen as a useful form of identification with marginal room for error [3].

What is a DNA profile/ DNA database, and how can it be used/misused:

When DNA samples are taken from individuals they are analyzed in laboratories to produce a digitized representation of numbers known as a DNA profile. Once created, a DNA profile is stored on a DNA database (i.e. an electronic database) with other identifying information from the individual and information from the crime scene. A DNA profile is based on parts of a person's DNA, so it is not unique to an individual. The probability of an individual's DNA profile matching a stranger's by chance is very small, but not impossible. To collect a sample of DNA police normally use a mouth swab to scrape cells from inside the suspect's cheek. If the individual refuses, their DNA can be obtained by pulling some hairs out of their head (cut hair does not contain DNA, it is only in the roots), if the law allows DNA to be taken without consent. DNA samples are also collected from crime scenes, for example from a blood stain, and analyzed in the same way.  DNA samples are sometimes stored indefinitely in the laboratory with a bar code number (or other information) that allows them to be linked back to the individual [3]. Stored DNA profiles from crime scenes can be helpful to exonerate an innocent person who is falsely accused of a crime if their DNA does not match a crime scene DNA profile that is thought to have come from the perpetrator. However, stored DNA profiles from individuals are not needed for exoneration because the individual's DNA can always be tested directly (it does not need to be stored on a database). Collecting DNA profiles from individuals can be useful during an investigation, to compare with a crime scene DNA profile and either exonerate an individual or confirm they are a suspect for the crime. Corroborating evidence is always needed because of the possibility of false matches (which can occur by chance or due to laboratory errors) and because there may be an innocent explanation for an individual's DNA being at a crime scene, or their DNA could have been planted there. Storing DNA profiles from individuals on a database is only useful to implicate those individuals in possible future crimes, not to exonerate innocent people, or to solve past crimes. An individual is implicated as a possible suspect for a crime if their stored DNA profile matches a new crime scene DNA profile that is loaded on to the database. For this reason, most countries only store DNA profiles from individuals who have committed serious crimes and may be at risk of re-offending in the future. Stored DNA profiles could in theory be used to track any individual on the database or to identify their relatives, so strict safeguards are needed to prevent misuse [4].

DNA testing in India:

At present, India does not have a national law that empowers the government to collect and store DNA profiles of convicts, but DNA collection and testing and is taking place in many states. For instance, in Pune the army is currently considering creating DNA profiles of troops who are involved in hazardous tasks inorder to help identify bodies mutilated beyond recognition [5].  In December of this year a judge in the Supreme Court ordered DNA testing on a congress spokesmen to determine if his child was really his child [6].  Also in December this year a news article announced the establishment of the first DNA profiling databank in Nehru Nagar [7].  Additionally DNA has been used to identify criminals , for instance in the Tandoor Murder  DNA testing was used to reveal the identity of the culprit [8].

India hosts both private and public DNA labs. Public labs are sponsored by the Government, and use DNA purely for forensic purposes. For example The Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) located in Hyderabad is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Science. CDFD runs DNA testing for: establishment of parentage, identification of mutilated remains, establishment of biological relationships for immigration, organ transplantation, property inheritance cases, identification of missing children and child swapping in hospitals, identification of rapist in rape cases, identification in the case of murder.

Cases are only accepted by CDFD if they are referred by law enforcement agencies or by a court of law. Only an officer of the rank  Inspector of Police or above may forward DNA cases to CDFD. Copies of DNA report are released to individuals if they are able to prove needed interest in the case through a notarized affidavit [9]. In 2010 CDFD received 100 cases from law enforcing agencies. Additionally, in 2010 CDFD was given rupees eighteen lakhs thirty nine thousand  five hundred and forty five from the Government of India towards DNA fingerprinting services [10]. The Indian Government has also established National Facilities for Training in DNA Profiling in order to train individuals in DNA testing and expand the number of DNA examiners and laboratories available in the country [11].

Examples of private DNA labs include DNA labs India and Truth Labs. DNA labs India runs paternity testing, forensic testing, prenatal testing, and genetic testing [12]. Truth Labs is a private lab that provides legal services directly, without a court or police order [13]. 

The Complexity of privacy and DNA collection/ testing:
As mentioned above, the personal and sensitive nature of DNA,  the use of DNA  raises  many privacy concerns.  The concerns fall into three basic areas:  first, if a person has given consent to have his or  her DNA used for a specific purpose, must the DNA be destroyed or can it be used for other purposes as well?  Related to that, if a person must give consent for a specific purpose, what happens if the person is no longer able to give consent -- if, for example, the person has died?  Finally, if the testing of one person's DNA yields information that is likely, or probable, or certain to impact another person, does that person have a right to know the information discovered?  There are variations on these questions -- as for example does DNA is permitted to be taken without consent (to test for a crime, perhaps), does that lack of need for consent permit all uses of DNA that others want.  Who decides? The complexity of  these questions demonstrates that in the situation of DNA collection and testing privacy cannot be protected simply through consent from an individual. Instead the law must permit specific thresholds to be established in order to cover the privacy needs of different situations.


Can DNA evidence be considered self-incriminating evidence?
According to the Supreme Court fingerprinting and other physical evidence is not covered by article 20(3). In the case of State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad, the courts answered the question of whether or not the freedom against self-incrimination guaranteed under article 20(3) of the Constitution of India – which is meant to protect a person from  torture from the police – can be extended to the collection of DNA? the courts answered this question by upholding that
 “To be a witness may be equivalent to ‘furnishing evidence’ in the sense of making oral or written statement, but not in the larger sense of the expression so as to include giving of thumb impression or impression of palm or foot or fingers or specimen writing or exposing a part of the body by an accused person for purposes of identification [14]”

Critique of the DNA Profiling Bill 2007


Does India already have sufficient legislation?
The collection and  use of  biometrics for identification of criminals legally began in India during the 1920's with the approval of the Identification of Prisoners Bill 1920 [15]. The object of the Bill is to “provide legal authority for the taking of measurements of finger impression, foot-prints, and photographs of persons convicted or arrested…”[16]   The Bill is still enforced in India, and in October 2010 was amended by the State Government of Tamil Nadu to include “blood samples” as a type of forensic evidence [17]. Other Indian legislation pertaining to forensic evidence is the CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act. In 2005 section 53A of the CrPC  was amended to authorize investigating officers to collect DNA samples with the help of a registered medical practitioner, but the Indian Evidence Act fails to manage science and technology issues effectively [18].  The current state of statutes for DNA collection in India are not sufficient as the neglect to lay out precise procedures for collection, processing, storage, and dissemination of DNA samples. One question to consider though is if the Prisoners Identification Bill, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act could be amended to incorporate DNA, and the needed safeguards, as a type of forensic evidence for all of India.

Lack of requirement for additional evidence: The preamble of the DNA Profiling Bill states that “The Deoxyribose 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.”  This statement is untrue as DNA test can be compromised under many circumstances including: techniques for declaring a match, the proficiency of examiners, laboratory control standards and statistical problems, and DNA samples can become degraded due to age or exposure to chemical or bacterial agents [19]. Because DNA is not foolproof individuals can be falsely implicated in a crime as a result of an incorrect DNA match. The Bill needs to put in place procedures for the court to recognize the fact that DNA is not 100% foolproof, present the statistics correctly, and require supporting evidence [20]. 


Scope for DNA Collection: The stated object of the DNA Bill is to: “enhance protection of people and administration of justice, analysis of DNA found at the crime scene, establish identity of victim and offender”.  The list of offenses and situations in which the collection and testing of DNA is permitted, found in the Schedule of the Bill, provides for the collection DNA from individuals who are not related to a crime scene,  are not victims, and are not  criminals.  Furthermore, section 13(xxii) allows this list to be expanded by the DNA board.  We believe these sections should be omitted from the scope of the Bill, so that it is limited to only identifying individuals who are victims and offenders, and that a statutory body besides the DNA board be given the authority to expand the list of proposed offences [21].  Furthermore, within the Bill there are many places where vague language  permits the DNA testing of individuals who are not yet convicted of a crime, which will constitute an invasion of privacy unless the DNA is provided voluntarily to release a person suspected or accused of a crime [22]. Additionally as mentioned above it is critical that the Bill recognizes and allows for different thresholds of privacy when collecting, analyzing and sharing DNA profiles.  


Clear definition of when collection of DNA samples can be taken:  The schedule of the Bill only lists the offenses and situations for which the collection of DNA is permitted. We believe a provision must be added that clarify when exactly DNA can be collected e.g. whether the DNA can be collected on arrest or on charge, whether the DNA has to be relevant to the offence, or whether the police decide this for themselves, and what are the oversight mechanisms for these decisions [23].

Privacy Principles: The Bill enables the DNA Profiling Board to recommend privacy protection statutes, regulations, and practices concerning: use and dissemination, accuracy, security, and confidentiality, and destruction of DNA information [24]. Privacy principles should not be left to recommendations by the board or to regulations of the Bill, but instead should be incorporated into the Bill itself to ensure that such practices are in place if the Bill is passed. Furthermore, the appropriate collection, access, and retention of DNA information should be specified in this Bill. 

Obligations for DNA laboratories: Section 19 of the Bill lays out the obligations of DNA laboratories [25]. We recommend that the implementation of a privacy policy should be mandatory under this section. 

Storage of  DNA profiles and samples: Currently the Bill allows for the complete storage of DNA of: volunteers, suspects, victims, offenders, children (with parental consent), and convicted persons.  DNA samples taken from individuals contain unlimited genetic information (including health-related information) and are not needed for identification purposes once the profiles have been obtained from them, thus we recommend that the bill requires that DNA samples be stored temporarily for quality assurance purposes (e.g. for up to six months) and then destroyed to prevent misuse. This is an important privacy protection, which also reduces the cost of storing samples. The only purpose of retaining DNA profiles on a criminal database is to help identify the individual if they reoffend. Thus we recommend that the criminal databases should be restricted to holding DNA profiles only from convicted persons, and the types of offence and time period for retention should be limited. Although DNA profiles may have alternative uses other than solving crimes (e.g. identifying missing persons) we recommend that the missing persons databases are kept separate from criminal databases. Furthermore, although collecting DNA from victims and volunteers may be useful during the investigation of a crime, DNA profiles obtained from victims and volunteers should be destroyed once an investigation is complete. 

Conflicting Clauses: Section 14 of the Bill provides that DNA laboratories can only undertake DNA procedures with the approval, in writing, from the DNA profiling Board. Section 15(2) contradicts this statement by permitting already existing DNA laboratories to function and use DNA already collected even before they receive approval from the DNA profiling Board. We suggest that Section 14 is clearly written so that DNA laboratories that have already been set up are unable to continue functioning until they have met the approval of the DNA Profiling Board, and Section 15(2) should thus be deleted.

Access: According to section 41 of the Bill, the Data Bank Manager is given sole discretion as to who may have access to the DNA database, including persons given access for training purposes [26]. Low standards such as these vest too much discretion in the Data Bank Manager. We recommend that access is strictly limited to trained  personnel who have undergone proper security clearance. Furthermore, we recommend that the role of Data Bank Manager be analogous to a custodian for the databank. Thus, the manager would be accountable for the integrity and security of the data held in the DNA databank.

Offenses: Though the Bill provides for penalties such as unauthorized access, disclosure, destruction, alterations, and tampering [27], the Bill fails to provide punishment for the illegal collection of DNA samples. This should be made an offense under the Bill.

Redress: The Bill provides no redress mechanism to an individual whose DNA was illegally used or collected. Furthermore, section 49 (1) only permits the Central Government or DNA Profiling Board to bring complaints to the courts [28]. Thus, we recommend that individuals are enabled to bring charges against entities (such as DNA labs or police officials) for the misuse of their data.

Delegation of powers: The Bill allows the DNA Profiling Board to form committees of the members and delegate them the powers and functions of the board. This clause could allow outsourcing, and could allow a dilution of authority by which the DNA Profiling Board weighs approval or rejection of requests [29]. We recommend that the outsourcing of functions be limited to administration duties and jobs that do not directly relate to the core duties of the DNA Profiling Board. 

Access by law enforcement agencies: The Bill currently allows for the DNA Profiling Board to grant law enforcement agencies access to DNA profiles [30]. We recommend that  DNA profiles are only accessed by the Data Bank Manager. Law enforcement agencies should send requests for matches to the Data Bank Manager, and the Manger would provide the needed intelligence [31].

Public interest: The Bill allows for DNA laboratories to continue to operate, even if  the laboratory has violated the specified procedures, if the DNA Profiling Board finds it in the public interest [32]. We believe that where there have been violations, a laboratory should be required to demonstrate remediation before being allowed to resume operations.

Contamination of DNA samples: Currently the Bill holds laboratories responsible for “minimizing the contamination of DNA.”[33] DNA Laboratories should be held fully and legally responsible for preserving the quality of DNA samples. If a DNA sample is contaminated, and the DNA lab does not follow due diligence to discard the contaminated sample and or collect a new sample, and subsequently the DNA used wrongly against an individual - an individual should have the ability to press charges against the institution.

Audits: The Bill provides for the auditing of DNA laboratories, but the DNA Profiling Board must also undergo annual audits [34].

Indices Held by DNA Banks:  Under section 33 (4),(5)The Bill provides for the DNA data bank to set up indices that hold DNA  identification records and DNA analysis from: crime scenes, suspects, offenders, missing persons, unknown deceased persons, volunteers and such other indexes as specified by regulations. We believe the DNA data bank should not hold indexes on suspects, missing persons, or volunteers without consent and the ability for the individual to withdraw their consent. Furthermore, the Bill requires the taking of a victim’s DNA, but it is not listed as an index. We recommend that this section be deleted, as the creation of a DNA index is simply another copy of a DNA profile, and it does not serve a particular purpose.

Communicating of DNA Profile with Foreign States: Section 35 permits, with the approval of the Central Government, the sharing of DNA profiles with Foreign States [35]. We recommend that communication and use of a DNA profile with Foreign States should be limited to comparison only. 

Access to Data Banks for administration purposes:  Section 39 of the Bill permits access to the databank for “administrative purposes”. We recommend that the Bill clarify  what exactly constitutes “administrative purposes”, and clarify that the process/procedures that permit access to data banks for administration purposes will not require access to data stored in Data Banks [36].

Enforcement for the removal of innocents: Section 36(3) of the Bill requires that the DNA profile of individuals who are found innocent be removed from the database.  This provision should have legal  mechanisms to ensure enforcement of the provision e.g. reporting by the Board [37].

Ability to access one’s own DNA Profile:  A provision should be added to the Bill that gives individuals the right to ask the police for any of their own details held on police databases, so an individual has the ability to know if their data is being held against the law [38].

Clear Definition of identity: Section 33(6)(i) maintains that the DNA Data Bank will contain in relation to each of the DNA profiles… the “identity of the person”.  The Bill needs to define what is "identity" and how “identifying” information can be used. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that no other information (like an identity number) that would allow for function creep, is included in the DNA data base[39]. 

Transparency of the DNA board:  Section 13 of the Bill describes the powers and functions the DNA Board. In this section the DNA board should be required to publish and submit minutes and annual reports including detailed information on how it has exercised all its functions to the public and to Parliament. The report should include: numbers of profiles added to the database; numbers removed on acquittal, numbers of matches and solved crimes; costs; numbers of quality assurance inspections, and breakdowns of these figures by state [40].

Restricted use of DNA database: Section 39 (1) of the Bill permits the DNA database to be used for identification purposes that are not related to solving a crime including the “ identification of victims of: accidents, disasters or missing persons or for such other purposes”.  The DNA database should be restricted to the identification of a perpetrator of a specified criminal offence, and consent or a court order must be sought for any other use of the database for identification purposes.  

Probability of error published: Because profiles found in the DNA data base are comprised of only parts of individuals DNA, the profiles are not unique to individuals. Thus, the number of false matches that are expected to occur  by chance between crime scene DNA profiles and stored individual's profiles depends on how the profiling system used, how complete the crime scene DNA is before it is added to the database (many crime scene DNA stains are degraded and not complete), and how many comparisons are done (i.e. how big the database it is and how often it is searched). With a population the size of India, the number of these false matches could be very high. The DNA board needs to take this probability for error into consideration and publish researched  statistics on how many false matches they expect to occur purely by chance, based on the numbers of profiles they expect to store under the proposed criteria for entry and removal of profiles [41].

Cost analysis: The DNA board should publish a cost benefit analysis for the implementation the Bill. This should include the cost of storing samples, collecting sample, and testing samples [42].

Bibliography

  1. http://www.cdfd.org.in/
  2. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/basics/dna
  3. Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007 pg.6, 22
  4. Ibid email conversation with Dr. Wallace from Genewatch UK April 2nd 2002
  5. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-02/india/28371869_1_dna-data-bank-blood-samples-bodies
  6.  http://www.merinews.com/article/justice-s-rabindra-bhatt-orders-dna-test-for-nd-tiwari/15838508.shtml
  7.  http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_nehru-nagar-first-region-in-country-to-have-dna-profiling-database_1477211
  8. Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007. Pg.263
  9. http://www.cdfd.org.in/servicespages/dnafingerprinting.html
  10. ibidhttp://www.cdfd.org.in/image/AR_2009_10.pdf
  11. http://planningcommission.nic.in/plans/planrel/fiveyr/11th/11_v1/11v1_ch8.pdf
  12. http://www.dnalabsindia.com/
  13. http://www.truthlabs.org/
  14. AIR 1961 SC 1808
  15.  The Prisoners Identification Bill was most recently amended 1981
  16. http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/51-100/report87.pdf
  17.  http://www.tn.gov.in/stationeryprinting/extraordinary/2010/305-Ex-IV-2.pdf
  18. Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007 pg. 259
  19. Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007 pg. 245
  20. Email conversation with Dr. Wallace from Genewatch UK. April 2nd
  21. Schedule of offenses 5) Miscarriage or therapeutic abortion, b. Unnatural offenses, 7) Other criminal offenses b. Prostitution 9) Mass disaster  b) Civil (purpose of civil cases) c. Identification purpose 10)  b) Civil:1) Paternity dispute 2) Marital dispute 3) Infidelity 4) Affiliation c) Personal Identification 1) Living 2) Dead 3) Tissue Remains d)
  22.  2 (xxvii) “offender” means a person who has been convicted of or is under trial charged with a specified offense.
    2(1)(vii) “crime scene index” means an index of DNA profiles derived from
    forensic material found: (a) at any place (whether within or outside India) where a specified offense was, or is reasonably suspected of having been, committed;
    or (b) on or within the body of the victim, or a person reasonably
    suspected of being a victim, of an offense (DNA Profiling Bill)
  23.  Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007 Pg. 291
  24. Section (1) (xv) –(xvi) of DNA Profiling Bill
  25. Section 19 of DNA Profiling Bill
  26. Section 41(i) (ii) of DNA Profiling Bill
  27. Section 45, and section 46 of DNA Profiling Bill
  28.  Section 49 (1) of DNA Profiling Bill
  29.  Section 52 (2) The DNA Profiling Board may, by a general or special order in writing,
    also form committees of the members and delegate to them the powers
    and  of the Board as may be specified by the regulations.
  30. Section 13(x), Section(2) The DNA Profiling Board may, by a general or special order in writing,also form committees of the members and delegate to them the powers and functions of the Board as may be specified by the regulations.
  31. Adhikary, Jyotirmoy. DNA Technology in Administration of Justice. Lexis Nexis. 2007  Pg. 300
  32. Section 17 (2) of DNA Profiling Bill
  33. Section 22 of DNA Profiling Bill
  34. Section 28 of DNA Profiling Bill
  35. Section 35 (1) of DNA Profiling Bill
  36. Section 39 of DNA Profiling Bill
  37. http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539478
  38. http://www.genewatch.org/sub-539478
  39. http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=567376
  40. Email conversation with Dr. Wallace from Gene Watch UK April 2nd
  41. Standard setting and quality regulation in forensic science. GeneWatch UK submission to the Home Office Consultation.
    October 2006.
  42. Standard setting and quality regulation in forensic science. GeneWatch UK submission to the Home Office Consultation.
    October 2006.



     






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