In a controversial move that threatens to increase the intrusion by the state into the lives of ordinary citizens, the UPA government is set to introduce a DNA Profiling Bill in the winter session of Parliament. Once it becomes a law, the bill will grant the authority to collect vast amount of sensitive DNA data of citizens even if they are "suspects" in a criminal case. The data will be held till the person is cleared by court.
The bill has already raised the hackles of many groups working on privacy issues who are worried that if it becomes a law, it would empower the government to create intrusive databases.
The bill proposes the creation of a national DNA data bank that will be manned by a manager of the rank of a joint secretary to the government of India. For activists, this will help the government assume the role of an alarming "Big Brother" collecting vast amount of sensitive data of citizens. The preamble to the bill admits that "DNA analysis offers sensitive information which, if misused, can cause harm to a person or society".
The government has also slipped in a section that allows for "volunteers" to give their DNA profiles which will be maintained. It is not clear under what circumstances the "volunteers" will share their sensitive data with the government.
The data, the bill states, will also be used for the "creation and maintenance" of population statistics and can be used for "identification, research, protocol development or quality control".
Strangely enough, the penalty for "misuse" of the DNA profiles attracts a mild imprisonment of a few months or a fine of a paltry Rs50,000. The bill has been in the offing since 2007. In February 2012, the final working draft was circulated by the department of biotechnology (DBT) to other ministries for their comments.
While activists are concerned about privacy issues and fear that the database could be used by new intrusive tools like the Unique Identification Number and NATGRID, police officials feel the tool will be critical for investigations.
In fact, law enforcement agencies like the CBI have been pushing the government for an early enactment of the bill. They have cited the findings of a UK parliamentary report issued by its Office of Science and Technology in February 2006 that states that convictions in criminal cases went up drastically after the government agreed to maintain DNA profiling data in perpetuity. The report records that the detection of crime in the UK went up from 26% to a healthy 40% after DNA samples were loaded in the national DNA database.
However, since this kind of a database usually co-exists with crime statistics, there is a fear that members of minority communities could be easily targeted. This is a concern that has also been raised in the British parliamentary report which says that "blacks and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented" in their database because more of them are arrested for alleged crimes. Currently, the present bill does address these concerns of the inherent imbalance in racial profiling when maintaining a national DNA database.
Meanwhile, senior police officials who are familiar with the bill and have made extensive presentations to the DBT are upset that the bill makes a provision for deleting the DNA profile data after a person has been acquitted by courts. They feel that maintaining the data and increasing it slowly and steadily will go a long way in preventing and solving crimes. While that is a legitimate argument, the absence of a strong privacy law raises concerns about the intrusive nature of the proposed DNA Profiling Bill.