What is DNA profiling? Explain the implications of its profiling bill.

Ans: DNA profiling is the process of determining an individual’s DNA characteristics, which are as unique as fingerprints. DNA analysis, intended to identify a species rather than an individual, is called DNA bar-coding. It is a forensic technique in criminal investigations, comparing criminal suspects’ profiles to DNA evidence so as to assess the likelihood of their involvement in the crime. It is also used in parentage testing to establish immigration eligibility, and in genealogical and medical research.  DNA profiling is also used in the study of animal and plant populations in the fields of zoology, botany and agriculture.

The Union Cabinet cleared a bill that allows law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples, create DNA profiles and special data banks for forensic-criminal investigations. The DNA Technology (Use and application) Regulation Bill 2018 is the latest version of a Bill that originated as a DNA “Profiling” Bill, framed by the Department of Biotechnology. The aim of that draft legislation was to set in place an institutional mechanism to collect and deploy DNA technologies to identify persons based on samples collected from crime scenes or for identifying missing persons.

However, there was some opposition, in that some activists argued that the manner in which DNA information was to be collected and the way they were to be stored by forensic laboratories constituted a violation of privacy. A senior official familiar with the Bill said that several clauses of the Bill were tightened to make it stronger and immune to data abuse. “This doesn’t aim to create a database of DNA profiles…The data banks can only store information related to criminal investigations and the DNA details of the suspects will be deleted,” said RenuSwarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology.

The Bill creates a DNA Profiling Board that would be the final authority that would authorize the creation of State-level data banks, approve the methods of collection and analysis of DNA technologies.

The Bill is still missing a number of safeguards that would enable individual rights.  The implications of creating regional and national level data banks need to be fully understood and publicly debated.

It is concerning that the Bill has left the defining of privacy and security safeguards to regulation–including implementation and sufficiency of protection, appropriate use and dissemination of DNA information, accuracy, security and confidentiality of DNA information, timely removal and deletion of obsolete or inaccurate DNA information and other steps as necessary. Furthermore, though the Law Commission cites the use of the 13 CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) profiling standard as a means to protecting privacy in its report, this standard has yet to find its way in the text of the Bill.

DNA is not fool proof—false matches can take place for multiple reasons. Policy needs to evolve past protections that are limited to process oriented legal privacy provisions, but instead to protections that are comprehensive —accounting for process and enabling the individuals to control and know her/his data is being used by whom. Other countries have recognized this and are taking steps to empower the individuals.