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DNA collection allowed for less serious crimes: What if a suspect refuses?

The effectiveness of DNA profiling in criminal investigations largely depends on the size of the DNA database. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The police will be expanding the scope of crimes for which DNA samples of the people involved can be collected, following the passing in Parliament of the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill on Monday.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said the effectiveness of DNA profiling in criminal investigations largely depends on the size of the DNA database. Thus, the expansion of this database will bolster the police's ability to solve crimes, she noted.

The Straits Times looks at who will be affected and other issues under the new amendments, including the implications of refusing to provide one's DNA.

Q: Who will the police be able to collect DNA from?

A: Currently, the police can collect non-DNA identifying information like photographs and fingerprints as well as DNA information only for registrable crimes. These are serious offences such as murder, molestation and robbery, which lead to a criminal record for convicted individuals.

With the amendments, the police will be allowed to collect DNA information from suspects involved in not just registrable crimes, but eligible crimes as well.

Eligible crimes are imprisonable and non-compoundable, which means offenders do not have the option of settling the case out of court by paying compensation in lieu of punishment and a criminal record. Examples of eligible crimes include unlawful stalking, drink driving, obscene acts and voluntarily causing hurt.

Those involved in minor offences, such as littering and smoking in prohibited places, will not have their DNA collected.

Q: Why is there a need to expand the police's DNA database?

A: Ms Sun said in Parliament that about 60 per cent of crime scene samples collected between 2017 and 2021 were unmatched when screened against the DNA database. She also noted that while fingerprint matching can help the police place an individual at the crime scene, it may not always be possible for a complete fingerprint to be lifted.

"DNA profiling, on the other hand, is not limited to one source as DNA information may be derived from minute amounts of body samples such as saliva, sweat, or blood droplets," she added.

Thus, the police's DNA database needs to be expanded to bolster their ability to solve crimes, she said.

Q: What if a suspect refuses to provide his DNA?

A: It has been made clear in the Bill that it is an offence for accused individuals to refuse to provide blood samples without a reasonable excuse. They may be fined up to $1,000, jailed for up to one month, or both.

An officer may use force to take non-invasive body samples, such as cheek swabs, from an accused individual if he refuses to consent to it. Ms Sun said facts and circumstances of each case, including the urgency of the situation, will be assessed in the decision to use reasonable force.

Currently, it is already an offence for a person to decline to have his photos and fingerprints taken without reasonable excuse. A negative inference may also be drawn against him in court proceedings.

Q: Where will the DNA be kept?

A: The DNA will be stored in a database, which is owned by the police and run by the Health Sciences Authority. The database will be used to determine whether DNA recovered from a crime scene matches that of an individual in the system.

Q: Are there safeguards to ensure the DNA database is secure?

A: The Ministry of Home Affairs said legislative safeguards will be introduced to protect the information recorded in the various databases against any loss, modification and unauthorised access.

In response to concerns from MPs in Parliament on this issue, Ms Sun said only authorised individuals are allowed to access the DNA database. All access is logged and recorded through an audit trail to detect any data modification.

She added that there is also a framework in place to manage any government data incidents. In the event of a data breach, appropriate remedial actions will be taken, Ms Sun said.

Q: Can people provide their DNA even if they are not involved in police investigations?

A: Yes. A key amendment in the Bill includes allowing any individual to provide his DNA or non-DNA identifying information voluntarily to the police. Those who do so can request the police to delete their information at any time, and the police must accede to their request.

Q: What are other notable amendments to the Bill?

A: Currently, when an accused individual is acquitted or discharged by the court, or is found to have not been involved in the commission of any crime, the police are required to immediately remove the person's data from their records.

Following the amendments, these individuals may apply to the police to remove their data. Their data will be removed unless the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the retention of the information is either relevant to other ongoing investigations or necessary to safeguard Singapore's national security.

A reviewing tribunal, comprising a district judge or magistrate, will be set up to hear appeals against a decision by the police to reject an application for data removal.

Separately, DNA information can be used to identify a dead person, and for any investigations into a death. Currently, DNA information can be used only for criminal investigations, forensic comparison with other DNA information and for criminal proceedings.

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