/ 19 February 2009

DNA proposal ‘will violate rights’

The South African Human Rights Commission has balked at proposed legislation designed to equip police crime-fighters with a DNA database, arguing that a number of its provisions may be unconstitutional.

In a public hearing in Parliament on Tuesday, the commission argued that the mandatory taking of fingerprints and DNA samples proposed by the Criminal Law Forensic Procedures Amendment Bill must be balanced against the right to privacy.

”A person should not necessarily have a reduced expectation of privacy just by virtue of being arrested, as that would run contrary to the principle of the presumption of innocence,” the commission said.

The Bill aims to establish a DNA database and expanded fingerprint capacity, as well as enable DNA ”scene-to scene” matches to make it easier to identify offenders. It also aims to pave the way for an IT system that will enable the police to access the databases of other government departments, allow police to keep a database of all fingerprint and DNA material collected, and use it as a crime intelligence tool.

Senior commission researcher Danzel van Zyl complained that the Bill seeks to legalise the use of improperly obtained evidence, even though section 35 of the Constitution outlaws this. It was silent on the implications of a person refusing to submit a sample, and its safeguards were insufficient.

The commission has proposed that South Africa follow the British model, which provides for a national DNA operations group that focuses on the tactical and operational delivery of DNA services, while an ethics group provides independent ethical advice on the use of the database.