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Singapore

Police may be allowed to collect DNA from more suspects and offenders under new Bill

Expanding the DNA database would allow the police to solve crimes more effectively, said the Ministry of Home Affairs.

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is looking to expand the DNA database of offenders and suspects, to enable the police to solve crimes more effectively.

A Bill was introduced in Parliament on Monday (Aug 1), proposing the collection of DNA from a broader range of offenders and suspects. It also proposes more uses of DNA information, as well as introducing procedures to allow people to request the removal of the data.

Currently, the police can only collect photographs, fingerprints and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) information for registrable crimes. This refers to more serious offences such as murder, rape, robbery, cheating and child abuse - crimes which result in a criminal record.

“Restricting the collection of an individual’s particulars and DNA information to just these types of crime has resulted in smaller databases, which may limit the police’s ability to solve crimes, especially in cases with very few leads," MHA said in a media release.

EXPANSION OF DATABASE

Singapore's DNA database was established in 2002.

Apart from registrable crimes, the Bill seeks to allow the police to collect DNA and non-DNA identifying information for “eligible” crimes as well.

This refers to crimes which are imprisonable and not compoundable by the public prosecutor or a person authorised by legislation, said MHA. Examples of such offences include affray, voluntarily causing hurt, making obscene films and dangerous driving causing hurt.

“Crimes which are not compoundable by the public prosecutor or a person authorised by legislation are generally considered to be more serious, such that offenders are not allowed to pay composition sums in lieu of prosecution,” MHA said.

The police will not be allowed to collect DNA information for minor offences like littering, parking infringements and failure to comply with COVID-19 measures, for which offenders can pay a fine in lieu of prosecution.

“DNA and non-DNA identifying information are useful tools for crime-solving and would be more effective if there were larger databases for comparison with samples from the crime scene,” MHA said.

Non-DNA identifying information includes any description of the individual, such as a person's sex, age, appearance and height, as well as any document that contains information that identifies the individual.

Ultimately, expanding the databases serves the public interest as the data is useful in helping the police solve crimes, exonerate the innocent and identify the culprit, said MHA.

Local cases solved by DNA analysis

Murder in stabbing case: Committed in 2010, solved in 2010

On Sep 22, 2010, a mother of two was fatally stabbed by a man at Mandai Tekong Park. The suspect was believed to have come up behind her, covered her mouth to stop her from screaming and stabbed her in the lower back with a knife. He continued stabbing her even after she had fallen to the ground.

A knife with a plastic sheath was recovered at the scene. A partial DNA profile was developed from a swab taken from the knife sheath and used to search against the DNA database. Through extensive ground enquiries and investigations, aided by forensics, the police identified the suspect, Soh Wee Kian.

Soh was also found to be involved in three other stabbing incidents between January and May 2010 – two committed in the Yishun area and one committed in the Sembawang area.

Rape of 12-year-old girl: Committed in 2002, solved in 2014

In 2002, a 23-year-old abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl near her home.

The case went cold until 2014 when Lee Ah Choy, a Malaysian man, was arrested in Singapore for alleged theft.

A blood sample was taken from him and it was established that his DNA profile matched the one taken from the rape scene and the victim’s body. Lee was sentenced to 16-and-a-half-years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane.

Murder at Gardens by the Bay: Committed in 2016, solved in 2016

In July 2016, a 31-year-old engineer, Cui Yajie, was reported missing by her colleague. The police were able to solve the case even though her body was never found.

The vehicle of her boyfriend, Leslie Khoo Kwee Hock, was processed by the Forensic Chemistry and Physics Laboratory at the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) where traces of blood were found. HSA discovered that the blood had matching DNA with objects Ms Cui used at her home. 

The police also collected traces of evidence, including a piece of burnt clothing and some human hair. However, HSA could not determine that the human hair belonged to the victim as it was missing the roots, which contained DNA used in conventional DNA profiling methods.

HSA requested the police obtain some body samples from the victim’s mother to proceed with Mitochondrial DNA sequencing.

This was the first time Mitochondrial DNA sequencing was used in Singapore to establish the identity of the deceased even though there was no longer a physical body. 

The victim was an only child, which helped the police establish that it was indeed Ms Cui’s hair that was found at the crime scene. Khoo was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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The proposed changes will not affect the conviction records of those who commit “eligible” crimes as the offences will remain non-registrable, MHA said.

If the Bill is passed, the police will also be able to collect DNA and non-DNA identifying information from those who are arrested, or served with a detention order or restriction order, under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Currently, authorities can only collect information such as fingerprints and photographs from those arrested or detained under the ISA.

The proposal is aimed at better safeguarding Singapore against threats to its national security, MHA said.

Legislative safeguards will be introduced to protect the information recorded in the various databases against any loss, modification and unauthorised access. For instance, persons accessing the databases will have to be screened and authorised by the police, MHA said.

“All access to the databases will be logged and recorded. There will also be a tamper-proof audit trail to detect any data modification,” it added.

“These measures will safeguard and prevent the misuse of such sensitive data. Officers who misuse their powers will be dealt with severely.”

MORE USES OF DNA INFORMATION

The Bill also suggests expanding the prescribed uses of DNA information to include identifying a dead person and for any investigations and inquiries into a death.

In addition, the proposed changes will allow for the identification of an individual, who is otherwise unidentified or unable to identify himself, so that the police may assist him.

Currently, DNA information may only be used for criminal investigations by police officers, forensic comparison with other DNA information and for criminal proceedings.

MHA said the amendments will also strengthen international cooperation in the prevention and investigation of crimes.

DNA information of those convicted of a registrable crime may be shared with foreign law enforcement agencies if assessed to be necessary by the police for investigations or proceedings.

“The foreign law enforcement agency will be required to provide an undertaking to safe keep the data, limit its uses and destroy the DNA information upon conclusion of its use,” MHA said.

The DNA information of individuals convicted of non-registrable crimes and people who were not convicted will not be shared with foreign law enforcement agencies.

REFUSAL TO PROVIDE BLOOD SAMPLES

It is currently not an offence for a person who has committed a registrable crime to refuse to provide a blood sample for DNA information without good cause. Only a negative inference may be drawn against him in court proceedings, said MHA.

Under the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill, such refusal will be made an offence.

The proposed penalty for this new offence will be the same as the penalty for refusing to provide photographs and fingerprints without reasonable excuse - a maximum fine of S$1,000 and up to one month in jail.

“Blood samples yield more DNA than other types of body sample, and are hence more useful for DNA comparison,” MHA said.

Another proposed change is to allow more volunteers to provide potential evidence. Currently, only people who are present at the crime scene or questioned for investigations can voluntarily provide their DNA to the police.

However, the Bill proposes allowing any individual to provide their DNA and non-DNA identifying information voluntarily to the police. Volunteers may also request the police to delete their information at any time.

“The police will and must accede to their request,” MHA said.

APPLYING FOR DATA TO BE REMOVED

The Bill introduces new procedures for certain individuals to request for their data to be removed.

Currently, the police are required to immediately remove a person's DNA data from their records if he or she is subsequently acquitted, discharged by the court or found not to be involved in the commission of any crime.

Non-DNA identifying information is also removed.

“This may result in the removal of DNA and non-DNA identifying information that are relevant to another ongoing prosecution or investigation, or where retention is in the interests of the security of Singapore,” MHA said.

With the proposed amendments, those who have been acquitted, granted a discharge amounting to acquittal, or had their offence compounded under any written law will have to apply to the police to remove their data.

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the retention of the DNA or non-DNA identifying information is either relevant to other ongoing prosecutions or investigations, or necessary to safeguard national security, it is proposed that they will not delete the data.

If the police reject an individual’s application, he may appeal to a reviewing tribunal – another proposed amendment - within 30 days of the police’s determination.

An independent 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. The decisions made by the reviewing tribunal will be final, MHA said.

Where the acquittal is in relation to offences under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act and the ISA, the Minister for Home Affairs may issue a certificate if the retention of the data is in the interests of national security.

The Minister for Home Affairs’ decision will be conclusive and the reviewing tribunal must dismiss the appeal if the minister’s certificate is presented by the police.

These amendments will enable law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties to ensure the safety and security of Singapore more effectively, while safeguarding personal data, MHA said.

Source: CNA/ja(gs)

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