Centre for Internet & Society

This blog post seeks to provide a high level comparison of the 2017 and 2015 DNA Profiling Bill - calling out positive changes, remaining issues, and missing provisions.

In July 2017 the Law Commission published a report on DNA profiling and the “Draft Use and Regulation of DNA Based Technology Bill 2017”. India has  been contemplating a draft DNA Profiling Bill since 2007. There have been two publicly available versions of the bill, 2012, and 2015, and one version in 2016. In 2013, the Department of Biotechnology formulated an Expert Committee to discuss different aspects and issues raised regarding the Bill towards finalizing the text. The Centre for Internet and Society was a member of the Expert Committee, and in its conclusion, issued a note of dissent to the Expert Committee for DNA Profiling.

This post provides a high level overview of the Use and Regulation of DNA Based Technology Bill 2017 and calls out positive changes from the 2015 Bill, remaining issues, and missing provisions. The post also calls out if, and where, CIS's recommendations to the Expert Committee have been incorporated.

If enacted, the 2017 Bill will establish national and regional DNA data banks that will maintain five different types of indices: a crime scene  index, missing persons, offenders, suspects, and unknown deceased persons. The data banks will be led by a Director, responsible for communicating information with requesting entities, foreign states, and international organizations.  Information relating to DNA profiles, DNA samples, and records maintained in a DNA laboratory can be made available in six instances: to law enforcement and investigating agencies, in judicial proceedings, for facilitating prosecution and adjudication of criminal cases, for taking defence of an accused, for investigation of civil disputes, and other cases which might be specified by regulations. Offences related to unauthorized disclosure of information in the DNA data bank, obtaining information from DNA data banks without authorization, unlawful access to information in the DNA Data Bank, using DNA sample or result without authorization, and destroying, altering, contaminating, or tampering with biological evidence.

Below are some key positive changes from the 2015 Bill, remaining issues, and missing safeguards from the 2017 Bill:

Positive Changes: The Bill contains a number of positive changes from the 2015 draft. Key ones include:

  1. Consent: Section 21 prohibits the taking of samples from arrested persons without consent, except in the case of a specified offence - a specified offence being any offence punishable with death or imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years. If consent is refused, a magistrate can order the taking of the sample. This can be in the case of any matter listed in the Schedule of the Act. Section 22 provides for consent from volunteers. It is important to note that despite being an improvement from the 2015 Bill, which did not address instances of collection with our without consent,  this provision is still broad as the list of offences under the Schedule is expansive and can be further expanded by the Central Government. Furthermore, the Magistrate can overrule a refusal of consent of the parent or guardian of a voluneet who is a minor, which does not provide adequate protection to childrens' rights.
  2. Deletion: Section 31 defines instances for deletion of suspect profiles, under trial profiles, and all other profiles. Though a step in the right direction, as the 2015 Bill only addressed retention and deletion of the offenders index, this provision does not address the automatic removal of innocents.
  3. Purpose limitation: Section 33 limits the purpose of profiles in the DNA Data Bank to that of facilitating identification. This is a positive step from the 2015 Bill - which enabled use of DNA profiles for the creation and maintenance of a population statistics data bank.  Section 34 also limits the purposes for which information relating to DNA profiles, samples, and records can be made available.
  4. Destruction of samples: Section 20 defines instances for destruction of DNA samples. Destruction of samples was not address in the 2015 Bill, and is an important protection as it prevents samples from being re-analyzed.
  5. Comparison of profiles: Section 29 clarifies that if the individual is not an offender or a suspect, their information will not be compared with DNA profiles in the offenders’ or suspects index. This creates an important distinction between types of indices held in the data bank and the purpose for the same i.e missing persons are not treated as potential offenders. In the 2015 Bill, profiles entered in the offenders or crime scene index could be compared by the DNA Data Bank Manger against all profiles contained in the DNA Data Bank.
  6. Re-testing: Section 24 allows for an accused person to request for a re-examination of fresh bodily substances if it is believed the sample has been contaminated. The closest provision to this in the 2015 was the creation a post - conviction right for DNA profiling - which is now deleted. It is important to note that fresh samples can easily be obtained from individuals, but if contamination happens at a crime scene, it is much more difficult to obtain a fresh sample.
  7. Limiting Indices and including a crime scene index: The 2017 Bill limits the number of indices to five - a crime scene  index, missing persons, offenders, suspects, and unknown deceased persons.  This is an improvement from the 2015 Bill which provides for the maintenance of indices in the DNA Bank and includes a missing person’s index, an unknown deceased person’s index, a volunteers’ index, and such other DNA indices as may be specified by regulation.

Remaining Issues: There are some remaining issues in the 2017 Bill. Some of these include:

  1. Delegating and Expanding through Regulation: The Bill delegates a number of procedures to regulation - many which should be in the text of the Bill. For example: the format for receiving and storing DNA profiles, and additional criteria for entry, retention, and deletion of DNA profiles. Furthermore, a number of provisions allow for expansion through regulation. For example, the sources from which DNA can be collected from to be expanded as specified by regulations. Further purposes for making DNA profiles available can be defined by regulation. Important procedures such as privacy and security safeguards are also left to regulation.
  2. Broad Powers and Composition of the Board: The Bill designates twenty one responsibilities to the Board. As pointed out in 1, many of these should be detailed in the text of the legislation.

While serving on the Expert Committee,CIS recommended that the functions of the DNA Profiling Board should be limited to licensing, developing standards and norms, safeguarding privacy and other rights, ensuring public transparency, promoting information and debate and a few other limited functions necessary for a regulatory authority. This recommendation has not been incorporated.

Ideally, the Board should also include privacy experts, an expert in ethics, as well as civil society. Towards this, the Board should be comprised of separate Committees to address these different functions. There should be a Committee addressing regulatory issues pertaining to the functioning of Data Banks and Laboratories and an Ethics Committee to provide independent scrutiny of ethical issues.

As a positive note, the reduction of the size of the Board was agreed upon by the Expert Committee from 16 members (2012 Bill) to 11 members. This reccomendation has been incorporated.

CIS also provided language regarding how the Board could consult with the public:The Board, in carrying out its functions and activities, shall be required to consult with all persons and groups of persons whose rights and related interests may be affected or impacted by any DNA collection, storage, or profiling activity. The Board shall, while considering any matter under its purview, co-opt or include any person, group of persons, or organisation, in its meetings and activities if it is satisfied that that person, group of persons, or organisation, has a substantial interest in the matter and that it is necessary in the public interest to allow such participation. The Board shall, while consulting or co-opting persons, ensure that meetings, workshops, and events are conducted at different places in India to ensure equal regional participation and activities. This language has not been fully incorporated

  1. Lack of Authorization Procedure: Though the Bill defines instances of when DNA information can be made available, it fails to establish or refer to an authorization process for making information available and the decision currently seems to rest with the DNA Bank Director.
  2. Expansive Schedule: The Bill creates a schedule containing a list of matters for DNA testing which includes whole acts and a range of civil disputes and matters that are broad and do not relate to criminal cases - most notably “issues relating to immigration or emigration and issues relating to establishment of individual identity.”
  3. Unclear Data Stored: Though the Bill clarifies the circumstance that the identity of the individual will be associated with a profile, it allows for ‘information of data  based on DNA testing and records relating thereto” to be stored, yet it is unclear what information this would entail.
  4. Lack of procedures for chain of custody: Presently, the Bill defines quality assurance procedures for a sample that is already at the lab. There are no provisions defining a process for the examination of a crime scene and laying down standards for the chain of custody of a sample from the crime scene to a DNA laboratory.

Missing Safeguards:

There are some safeguards that, if added, would strengthen the Bill and ensure rights to the individual:

  1. Notification to the individual: There are no provisions that ensure that notification is given to an individual if his/her information is accessed or made available.
  2. Right  to challenge: There are no provisions that give the individual the right to challenge the storage of their DNA.
  3. Established profiling standard: Though the Law Commission report refers to the 13 CODIS standard, the Bill does not mandate the use of the 13 CODIS profiling standard.
  4. Reporting standard: There are no standards for how matches or other information should be communicated from the DNA director to the authority or receiving entity including instances of partial matches.
  5. Right to access and review: There are no provisions that allow an individual to review his/her information contained in the  regional or the national database.
  6. Lack of costing: There is  no cost estimate in the report or a requirement for one to be carried out.
  7. Study for the potential for false matches: This must consider the size of the population and large family size, i.e. relatively large numbers of closely related people and is particularly necessary given the the size over population as large as India's.

Importantly, in the DNA Expert Committee, CIS requested the Expert Committee that the Bill be brought in line with the nine national principles defined in the Report of Experts on Privacy led by Justice AP Shah. These include the principles of notice, choice and consent, collection limitation, purpose limitation, access and correction, disclosure of information, security, openness, and accountability. These principles have not been fully incorporated.

The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of their individual authors. Unless the opposite is explicitly stated, or unless the opposite may be reasonably inferred, CIS does not subscribe to these views and opinions which belong to their individual authors. CIS does not accept any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the views and opinions of these individual authors. For an official statement from CIS on a particular issue, please contact us directly.