DNA database delayed

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 03 Nov 2009

Despite calls for its urgent introduction, the creation of a DNA database will be delayed, as capacity shortages and the inadequate implementation and maintenance plans of the South African Police Services (SAPS) come into question.

Parliament and the SAPS are proposing a new draft of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, which would not contain any clauses proposing the establishment or operation of the proposed national DNA database. This would be the first phase of the new Bill.

This follows suggestions from Parliament's portfolio committee on police, along with concerns on the readiness of the SAPS, to implement and maintain the database and the possibility of constitutional challenges cited from the wide-ranging powers given to police.

The focus of the first phase would be to give the SAPS access to the Department of Home Affairs' Hanis database and the Department of Transport's eNatis, and any state department for the purpose of compiling records. This phase could be finalised this month.

The second phase of the Bill would deal with the creation of the DNA database. This phase would be put on hold “while the issues are further investigated and addressed” and could be finalised in 2010, says the SAPS.

The Bill currently allows for the creation of a database, using biometric technology, which would allow for DNA profiling, DNA typing, DNA fingerprinting or genetic fingerprinting. The profiling system would be linked to Hanis and eNatis.

Deon Rudman, deputy director-general of legislative development at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ), says it has been informed of the proposed changes. The DOJ is considering proposals that have been presented, he says.

Constitutional challenges

Concerns were raised previously on the readiness and capacity of the police to implement and maintain the database. Parliament added the police needed to give more consideration to all aspects of biometric evidence, especially DNA and fingerprinting. It called on the SAPS to carefully consider the cost and capacity needed to maintain the Bill if it was enacted.

The Bill, which aims to strengthen the police service's crime-fighting initiatives, also provides for the expansion of the SAPS's powers to take and retain fingerprint and DNA samples. It allows for the establishment, administration and use of a DNA database as a criminal intelligence tool. The database would also interface with the police service's automated fingerprint identification system, and the capturing of digital fingerprints using electronic fingerprint biometrics technology would also be used.

Amendments to the Bill also limit the powers of the police. The acquisition and storage of non-intimate samples, photographs, profiles, and foot- and fingerprints can now only be taken by registered medical practitioners or registered nurses and not police officers - as previously stated.

The DOJ noted that changes to the process and careful consideration for identity management would ensure the process would “pass constitutional muster”. Increased security and governance would ensure issues around fundamental rights of individuals would be upheld, says Rudman.

Joining forces

The SAPS says no plans have been drawn up to integrate databases and allow for the electronic sharing of database information. No implementation plans have been finalised and no budget allocations have been made. Decisions would be made jointly with the other departments, says the SAPS.

The SAPS previously stated the final cost for the implementation and maintenance of the database had yet to be finalised and that it is still trying to secure funding. The police would need between R8 billion and R9 billion for the implementation alone.

A total of R3 billion would also have to be budgeted to build the police's crime scene and reference sample capacity. A further R2.5 billion would be needed for the expansion of the police fingerprint database and to link it with other databases. Another R2 billion has since been budgeted for the reference samples from private laboratories over a five-year period.

The SAPS reported that interdepartmental consultations on the issue were being held with the departments of home affairs and transport, and the process was moving smoothly. The success of this proposal, however, depended on the cooperation of the departments concerned.