The government has set the path for creating a DNA bank storing citizen's profiles, as the Union Cabinet cleared a bill for the regulation and use of DNA for policing. The bill is meant to regulate the use of DNA for criminal investigation and justice delivery, and has provisions for the storage of genetic information. The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2018 was passed in a cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and seeks to expand the use of DNA to help solve crimes, identify missing persons, and determine biological relationships between people. It will be introduced in Parliament during the Monsoon Session beginning July 18.
Although the bill includes safeguards on how this data is meant to be used, it's worth pointing out that India still does not have any laws regarding data protection and privacy. The Justice BN Srikrishna Committee on data protection, which was formed in August 2017, was expected to present its report months ago, and there were strong leaks that it would come out in June. However, the report remains under wraps, and there there is no clarity about its recommendations. That's also only the first step, as it has to then be taken up by the government and made into a law.
Scientists who had helped draft the DNA Technology bill told The Telegraph that expanding the use of DNA in criminal investigations could lead to higher conviction rates, especially in cases of murder, rape or human trafficking, among other crimes involving the human body.
"We rely on DNA for two things - it helps establish beyond doubt the biological identity of an individual and it helps beyond doubt to determine whether there is any biological relationship between two persons," said Jayaraman Gowrishankar, former director and now an Indian National Science Academy senior scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad.
According to NDTV, there is also a provision for a jail term of up to three years for anyone who leaks information from one of the DNA databases being created, along with a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. People seeking this information through illegal means face the same punishment.
In other countries, DNA profiles are also used for a number of businesses such as health care, ancestry information, and even DNA-based custom diet plans. However, the draft DNA bill states that the data collected can only be used for the identification of a person, and not other uses.
However, the accuracy of DNA testing in crime scenes has also been called into question over time. The possibility of cross contamination is incredibly high, and has led to innocent people going to prison.
Writing on the subject for The Hindustan Times, Elonnai Hickok, Director, Internet Governance at the Centre for Internet and Society added: "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 individual to control and know how her/ his data is being used and by whom. Other countries have recognised this and are taking important steps to empower the individual. India needs to do the same for its citizens."