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DNA fingerprinting has become the most precise and technologically advanced method for identifying crimes such as murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape. Police and judicial authorities and in some cases even private parties retain this in their records, writes Shilpa in this blog post.

At present, India does not have a national law that empowers the government to collect and store DNA profiles of convicts but if the Parliament of India passes the DNA Profiling Bill,[12007, India will soon join countries such as the US and UK in creating a national DNA database.[2] Government, CBI and organizations connected with the investigation process argue that data retention is necessary to combat terrorism and crime. According to Google Transparency Report [3] for the first half of 2010, India had 1,430 data requests, which made it one of the top nations in generating government inquiries for information.

In this blog I am citing my interviews with DNA labs, Issues regarding lab samples and data, and DNA Profiling Bill 2007 on lab practices. I am thankful to Anthony Jackson and Dr. Helen Wallace, Executive Director from Gene watch UK who helped me with the questionnaire for survey interview.

Interviews with DNA labs

I interviewed few government as well as private labs to find out how DNA practices are being carried out. This was to highlight ways in which DNA testing raises privacy concerns.

In public labs, DNA testing is used for the forensic purposes only. These labs are funded by the government whereas private labs deal with legal as well as private purposes. DNA Labs India (DLI), Truth Labs and Bio-Axis DNA Research Centre (P) Limited are some leading private firms involved in DNA testing.

  • Dr. Madhusudan Reddy Nandineni, who is the Scientist and In-charge of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) talked about the working of DNA practise and services provided by their laboratory. “CDFD located in Hyderabad is an autonomous institution supported by the Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Science. CDFD provides services for DNA testing for establishment of parentage, identification of mutilated remains, establishment of biological relationships for immigration, organ transplantation, property inheritance cases, identification of missing children and child swapping in hospitals, identification of rapists in rape cases, and murderers in murder cases. CDFD assists police personnel, forensic scientists, lawyers and the judiciary”, says Dr. Madhusudan Nandineni over a telephonic interview.

The ND Tiwari Case (Published in the Deccan Herald, 24 July 2011)
Eighty-five-year-old leader ND Tiwari was asked to undergo a DNA test in the paternity suit filed by Rohit Shekhar who claims to be his biological son. The high court asked the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagontics (CDFD) at Hyderabad to conduct a DNA test on Tiwari.[4] Also refusing to grant any relief to Tiwari, the court said that considering the age of the leader, it is necessary to have a DNA test so that the Rohit Shekhar is not left without any remedy if something happens to Tiwari. The court said that it is the right of a child to know his or her biological father.[5]

  • Dr. BK Mahapatra, Assistant Director, Biology & DNA Finger printing Unit at Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Delhi says “CFSL undertakes cases referred by CBI, Delhi police, judiciary, vigilance department of ministries, public undertakings and state/central government departments.  We don’t contract with private laboratory to do a DNA testing. We accept all type of DNA cases submissions like criminal, known, unknown, etc. CFSL saves DNA samples for re-testing, however, for this we do have a privacy policy followed by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). It is an autonomous body under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and is registered under the Societies Act”, he clarified.
  • In a telephonic interview with Ravi Kiran Reddy, DNA expert, DLI a, tells us about the services provided and security supervise by the laboratory. “DLI provides services for paternity testing, forensic testing, prenatal testing, and genetic testing. DLI contracted with a private laboratory to do DNA testing.  We accept all DNA cases like suicide attempts, cases from Indian Army, etc. DLI saves DNA samples for re-testing for six months and if necessary for life time and a database is also maintained. He further said that to protect and secure database, bar coding is being prepared and therefore, no identity is revealed.

Some of the labs refused to participate in the research exercise like the truth labs. Truth Labs is a private lab that provides legal services directly, without a court or police order.[6] Another private laboratory which provides DNA testing is Bio-Axis DNA Research Centre. It also provide various DNA Identification services for private purposes, legal purposes, peace of mind, confidential purposes, immigration purposes, crime investigation and human identification purposes.[7]

Issues Regarding Lab Samples and Data

Readers may have heard of rapists being caught because of a match between a suspect's DNA and sperm left behind in a victim. Or, as often the case, an innocent person may be released because the DNA of that person does not match that found in a crime scene.[8]

  • Possibility of Framing Innocents: Kshitij Urs, an Action Aid said, “There can be some problems if one were to rely too much on DNA databases in the criminal justice system as DNA evidence can be planted in a crime scene intentionally”, in an event organised by CIS.
  • Insecurity of Centralised Storage: With DNA tests, a patient's medical file will contain information they would prefer to be confidential. But the whole idea of general DNA testing will only be effective if the data is stored in a single electronic database, which makes the confidentiality problem extremely pressing. For example, the results of DNA testing might reveal that a person who is legally a child's father isn't really his biological father.[9]
  • Other Privacy Concerns: DNA contains information that raises a much broader privacy and other civil liberties concerns. It can tell investigators about ourselves, our family members, diseases we may have inherited our physical attributes and broad ancestry. Genetic information can be used in all sorts of discriminatory ways.[10]

What can be done?
There should be a DNA retention policy to protect an individual. It will identify personal data which has to be maintained and contain guidelines for how long certain documents should be kept and how they should be destroyed.[11] In the situation of DNA collection and testing privacy cannot be protected simply through consent from an individual. Instead the law must permit specific thresholds to be established in order to cover the privacy needs of different situations. DNA profiling Bill 2007 will regulate the use of DNA profiles which is pending in the Parliament.

DNA Profiling Bill 2007 on Lab Practices

According to the DNA Profiling Bill there are certain rules for the DNA laboratories which are followed by these labs.

  • Prohibition for undertaking DNA procedures: It states that DNA laboratories have to take prior permission from the DNA Profiling Board to undertake any DNA procedures.
  • Security and minimize contamination: There should be proper facility of security and minimize contamination of DNA samples.
  • Confidentiality, Access to DNA Profiles, Samples and Records: DNA Profiling Bill states that all DNA profiles, samples and records forwarded to the DNA laboratory or any authority of the lab has to be kept confidential.
  • Use of DNA profiles, samples and records: All DNA profiles, samples and records should be used only for facilitating identification of the perpetrator(s) of a specified offence and also to identify victims of accidents, disasters or missing persons or for such other purposes.
  • Authorised Access: It also says that information stored on the DNA database system may be accessed by the authorized persons for the purposes of forensic comparison permitted under this Act, administering the DNA database system, accessing any information contained in it by law enforcement officers or any other persons, as may be prescribed, in accordance with provisions of any law for the time being in force, inquest or inquiry.
  • Restrictions on use of information on DNA profiles, samples and data identification records: Laboratory cannot use the information for any purpose other than the purpose for which the communication or access is permitted.
  • Destruction, alterations, contamination, tampering with biological evidence: The Bill states that whoever knowingly or intentionally destroys alters, contaminates or tampers with biological evidence will be punishable with imprisonment for a term which  may  extend  to  five years, or with fine not exceeding twenty  thousand rupees, or with both.[12]

Conclusion

  • Currently the Bill allows for the complete storage of DNA of criminals, suspects, victims, offenders and volunteers.
  • There are no standard practices for data retention across lab. Thereby there is an increased risk that data might fall in wrong hands and information may also be misused. Therefore, DNA databases should be restricted to be stored for not more than a limited time period. Such indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of innocent individuals is a disproportionate and unnecessary interference with an individual’s right to privacy.
  • DNA labs in India have numerous constraints and operating in different level. Therefore, India has to be having even more carefully designed laws.
List of Laboratories
  • Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Delhi
    Dr. BK Mahapatra
    Associate Biology Division
    Ph: 9312523536, 24360095
    Mail: [email protected]
  • Centre For Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad
    Dr. Madhusudan Nandineni
    Scientist and In-charge
    Ph: 24749331, 24749330
    Mail: [email protected]

Notes

[1]http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/DNA-Profiling-Bill

[2]http://www.gene-watch.org/blog/post/India-May-Soon-Have-a-National-DNA-Database.aspx

[3]Amy Miller, “Google’s new tool shows which countries are censoring the internet” http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202472346375

[4]Paternity case: No relief for N D Tiwari as Supreme Court allows DNA test http://www.indianexpress.com/news/paternity-case-no-relief-for-n-d-tiwari-as/762146/

[5]Paternity case: ND Tiwari to provide blood sample for DNA test http://www.deccanherald.com/content/165408/paternity-case-nd-tiwari-provide.html

[6]http://www.truthlabs.org/

[7]Bio-Axis Research Centre, http://www.dnatestinginindia.ewebsite.com

[8]Sujatha Byravan , A public, private database http://www.indiatogether.org/2009/sep/hrt-dnadb.htm

[9]Vibhor Verdhan, Data Retention Policies- An Emerging Requirement & Various Compliances http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l428-Data-Retention-Policies.html

[10]Andrei Kislyakov , DNA testing: pros & cons http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20090104/119294260.html

[11]Vibhor Verdhan, Data Retention Policies- An Emerging Requirement & Various Compliances

[12]DNA Profiling Bill http://dbtindia.nic.in/DNA_Bill.pdf

Click here for the Survey Questions

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the main constituent of the chromosomes of all organisms, and is found in the form of a double helix within the nucleus of every somatic cell. Consequently, a small sample of human body cells can be decoded to reveal a pattern that is shared only by a genetically identical twin. The DNA of each individual does not change during his lifetime. This technique is commonly used in police investigations and is termed ‘DNA fingerprinting. For more see the Wikipedia definition of DNA.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlWIOFsXM5Ynd4u5xnqQ_qfu3lvQAciI64
https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlWIOFsXM5Ynd4u5xnqQ_qfu3lvQAciI64 says:
Aug 12, 2012 09:13 AM

dear shilpa, i am a journalist working on a story for which i need information on the rules that govern dna testing labs. where could i access the full text of the survey you conducted? do let me know if you get this, my e-mail id is [email protected] regards, avirook sen

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