According to the National Crime Records Bureau, only about a quarter of rape cases ended in conviction in 2016. These rates are low in other countries too.
The outrage over these attacks has reinforced the belief that India needs a sex offenders’ database or a DNA database of those accused and charged with rape.
However building a DNA database is not easy, and it does not always offer justice, and is an ethical landmine.
Concerns regarding using DNA profiling
Civil liberties and rights:
Protecting innocent people’s privacy and their civil liberties and rights are the main concerns e.g. the police sometimes may use DNA dragnets whereby all the people in a community are persuaded to give their saliva or blood in order to identify a possible suspect amongst them.
Such samples later get included in forensic DNA databanks, thus violating people’s civil liberties.
Planting of DNA:
Planting of DNA in a crime scene, misinterpretation of tests, and errors in analyses is another cause of concern regarding DNA profiling.
Everybody leaves traces of DNA in numerous places, as cells are shed, leading to ridiculous mistakes such as the Phantom of Heilbronn (when the German police admitted that a woman they were searching for more than 15 years based on DNA traces at crime scenes never in fact existed).
DNA data mining:
Dangers of misuse as how our digital data is being used by Data mining companies today.
Targeting of particular groups:
Targeting of particular communities, groups based on race, ethnicity or color etc.
Unethical ways of DNA collection:
In a number of cases, the police may follow persons they suspect and then gather their DNA secretly (for example, by taking a bottle or cup they were drinking from) and without warrants.
Collecting this so-called “abandoned DNA” has been challenged as being clearly unethical and unlawful.
Police bias towards minorities: Law enforcement is responsible for gathering DNA for forensics, and police bias towards minorities leads to the latter’s over-representation in the DNA databanks
Chance of False positive increases with number
Experience with the U.K. and U.S. databanks has shown that having more innocent people’s DNA stored increases the chances of a false positive and has not increased the chances of finding a guilty match.
Amidst these concerns then the question arises: How can DNA information be used in a way that respects the rights of people and their privacy?
It is absolutely essential that the people from whom DNA is taken give their informed consent; taking DNA surreptitiously should be prohibited.
A court order should be required for obtaining DNA without informed consent and the DNA should only be compared with the crime scene DNA for the suspect.
Those who are cleared for a crime should not have their DNA information stored, and DNA gathered from offenders should be destroyed after identification so that such information is not used for profiling in future.
A court order should be necessary to access medical records for genetic data.