Quantum Leap

Why the government wants to photograph your private parts

The Human DNA Profiling Bill 2015 has certain provisions that will infringe your privacy.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  3-minute read |   12-08-2015
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The draft of the Human DNA Profiling Bill 2015 has been made public by the department of biotechnology (DBT). If one counts all official and leaked versions of this controversial legislation, this is the fourth one in the past decade. This time around it seems to be the final version because the government has opened it for feedback from public.

However, it is surprising that the time given for sending comments is less than a fortnight for a piece of legislation with far-reaching implications. DBT's track record on this count has not been very good.

In 2010, it piloted a bill for setting up a regulatory body for biotechnology, but surreptitiously included a clause providing for jail term for critics of genetically-modified foods. Once exposed in the Mail Today, the clause was dropped and bill modified but it is still to see light of the day. The provisions of the DNA Profiling Bill too are controversial and grave. It should not be allowed to become law in its present form. Its provisions infringe the right to privacy of citizens. Already, the government has in its custody personal data of citizens (fingerprints, iris) in the UID database. Now it will also be in possession of DNA data of millions of citizens who may not necessarily be criminals.

The central justification for the new law is the need for a DNA bank to help improve crime detection, settling civil disputes, identification of missing persons and those killed in accidents, etc. It is argued that if the government keeps DNA records of convicted criminals, it would help nab repeat offenders. However, it becomes problematic when this logic is extended to suspects and under trials. The bill defines "offender" as "a person who has been convicted of, or is an under trial charged with, a specified offence". In the case of missing persons, relatives can offer their DNA samples voluntarily. In addition, offenders under several laws have specifically been brought under DNA profiling, including those committed under the Motor Vehicles Act. All this means DNA database would cover millions of people who may not necessarily be "repeat offenders".

Second, it seems DNA samples will be extracted mandatorily from people who are covered under this law because the bill skirts critical issues like consent and right to refuse from being profiled. Not just this, it has provisions for collecting samples from intimate body parts and taking photographs or videos of these parts. Third, DNA Bank and DNA Board will be empowered to authorise use of DNA data for non-forensic purposes like creation of "population statistics databank" for "identification research".

The DNA Profiling Board will be a crucial body deciding upon whatever is not covered the law, but its proposed composition is not representative at all. The director of Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) will be ex-officio secretary of the board, ignoring the fact that the CDFD will be one of the labs to be regulated by the board. The bill is full of loopholes like this and deserves to be junked.


Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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