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DNA profiling

DNA profiling (also called DNA fingerprinting, DNA testing, or DNA typing) is
a forensic technique used to identify individuals by characteristics of their DNA. A DNA
profile is a small set of DNA variations that is very likely to be different in all unrelated
individuals, thereby being as unique to individuals as are fingerprints (hence the alternate name
for the technique). DNA profiling should not be confused with full genome sequencing.
Leicester University geneticist Alec Jeffreys developed a technique called DNA fingerprinting in
1985. This technology, which has become known as DNA profiling, can be used to identify
individuals. Modern-day DNA profiling, called STR analysis, is a very sensitive technique which
only needs a few skin cells, a hair root or a tiny amount of blood or saliva.

DNA profiling is especially useful for solving crimes but can also be used to confirm if
people are related to each other, such as for paternity testing.

DNA profiling is used in, for example, parentage testing and criminal investigation, to
identify a person or to place a person at a crime scene.

Although 99.9% of human DNA sequences are the same in every person, enough of the
DNA is different that it is possible to distinguish one individual from another, unless they
are monozygotic ("identical") twins.

DNA profiling uses repetitive ("repeat") sequences that are highly


variable, called variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs), in particular short tandem
repeats (STRs). VNTR loci are very similar between closely related humans, but are so
variable that unrelated individuals are extremely unlikely to have the same VNTRs.

What is DNA profiling?


DNA fingerprinting is now fairly common in crime detection and is used for establishing the
identity of people in the aftermath of accidents or in settling paternity suits, like in the case
of former UP chief minister ND Tiwari. The identity of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
was established through DNA testing, probably by matching it with earlier samples of Hussein or
those of his sons. Since a person shares about half of his or her DNA from each of parents, this
data can be used to identify parents, siblings and relatives of an individual. DNA profiling is an
extension of using DNA testing for crime detection. It involves the creation of a database of DNA
of those who are convicted, jailed or suspects for a crime, so that in the event of a crime in the
future, their DNA can be matched against the details in the database. It is much like the police
keeping a record of fingerprint and iris data of criminals.

Why you need a law for it?


A law is needed so that DNA data becomes admissible as evidence in judicial proceedings and
handling of DNA testing, and use of this information by law enforcement agencies and others is
regulated. At present, DNA testing labs are unregulated and lack uniform testing protocols and
procedures. In the absence of a legal framework, a database can't be prepared and maintained. It
depends on the government as to what kind of information it wants included in the database - be
it information on only convicted persons, suspects or all those jailed. If the database is to include
all those in custody, then the DNA profile of acquitted individuals will have to be deleted, as
done in some countries. A DNA profiling law is supposed to codify everything and set
procedures for collection, safety, use and access of DNA samples and data.
What are the objections?
According to the 2007 draft of the Bill, which is available in the public domain, the National
DNA Data Bank and state data banks will store DNA profiles received from different laboratories
for samples picked up from crime scenes, samples of suspects, offenders, missing persons,
unknown deceased persons and that of volunteers. The data will be shared with enforcement
agencies within the country as well as abroad, upon request. Usha Ramanathan, one of the
members of the expert committee which examined ethical issues relating to DNA profiling, has
raised issues of consent, infallibility of DNA data and costs associated with setting up the
database. There could be false matches, human error and cross-contamination during analysis. It
is also doubtful if such a database can boost crime detection rates, going by experience of
countries that have similar databases.
How it can be misused?
Though the draft Bill provides for an elaborate procedure for accessing data contained in national
and state data banks, possibilities of leakage and misuse exist. Technically it is possible for the
data to be used for non-forensic purposes and to decipher information such as family history,
medical history and ancestry. The prescribed form for collection of data from criminals has a
column for "caste", which experts fear could lead to profiling of certain castes and
population groups. The UID database already has biometric information for most Indians. If any
government in future decides to link the UID database with the DNA database, it would place in
the hands of the government and its agencies all personal details about millions of citizens. Will
the information be made available for research? At present, for all DNA studies, scientists need
consent of people whose samples are collected. Without proper consent procedures, it would be a
gross violation of privacy and human rights.
What is the way out?
The idea of a DNA database administered by a DNA authority was first mooted during the NDA
regime in 2003. After several committees and deliberations within the government, a draft was
released in 2007 and another draft got leaked in 2012. Meanwhile, investigative and law
enforcement agencies have been seeking speedy approval of the Bill. There has been some public
discussion on the Bill, but all its provisions have not been discussed and debated in a transparent
way. The need for DNA profiling for solving complex cases and the use of DNA information as

evidence does exist, and so does the need for a law to regulate DNA collection, analysis and
storage. However, this should be the limited purpose of a DNA database.
India should proceed carefully without sacrificing the privacy and personal liberty of its citizens.