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CNA Explains: The police will soon collect DNA from more offenders. Can you refuse to comply?

Under the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill, which was passed in Parliament on Monday, the police will be able to collect DNA from more suspects and offenders. 

CNA Explains: The police will soon collect DNA from more offenders. Can you refuse to comply?
Tissue paper marked as evidence to be analysed for DNA. (Photo: CNA/Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament on Monday (Sep 12) to allow the Singapore Police Force to collect DNA from more suspects and offenders.

The move will improve the police’s investigative capabilities, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said.

Under current law, the police can collect DNA from people arrested for what is called “registrable” crimes and store it in a database for reference.

Registrable crimes comprise more serious offences that will lead to a criminal record, such as murder, rape and robbery.

“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 during the Bill’s introduction.

The Bill will allow police to collect DNA for “eligible” crimes, comprising offences that are imprisonable and not compoundable such as by paying a fine, and thus are considered more serious. These offences include voluntarily causing hurt and affray.

The police will still not be allowed to collect DNA for minor compoundable offences, including littering and minor parking infringements.

Why do the police need more DNA?

MHA said DNA information is a useful tool for crime-solving, and that a larger DNA database would be more effective for comparing samples from crime scenes.

The police earlier told CNA that DNA has helped it solve major crimes quicker. A larger DNA database would also deter more would-be criminals, said Superintendent of Police Roy Lim, head of the Special Investigation Section.

Without closed-circuit television camera footage or eyewitness accounts, DNA becomes even more crucial in proving or disproving an accused person’s version of events.

What if I choose not to give my DNA?

The Bill will make it clear that it is an offence for someone arrested for a registrable crime to refuse to give his blood sample for DNA without good cause. The courts could take a negative inference on him during proceedings.

Current law already states that it is an offence for the person to decline to have his photos and fingerprints taken without reasonable excuse.

The penalties for both offences are the same: Those convicted could be jailed up to a month, fined a maximum of S$1,000, or both.

Where will my DNA go?

DNA collected by the police is stored in a database. Launched in 2004, the database is owned by the police and run by the Health Sciences Authority, which helps law enforcement agencies analyse evidence for DNA.

The police can use the DNA database to determine whether DNA recovered from a crime scene matches someone in the system.

The database also stores DNA evidence from previous crime scenes, allowing the police to solve cold cases when a matching profile enters the system down the road.

The Bill will also allow the police to share DNA of those convicted of a registrable crime with foreign law enforcement agencies, if they assess this to be necessary for investigations or proceedings.

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

What about security and privacy concerns?

MHA said it will introduce legislative safeguards to protect the information recorded in the various databases against any loss, modification and unauthorised access. There will also be a tamper-proof audit trail to detect any data modification. 

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

Foreign law enforcement agencies that get DNA from Singapore police will be required to provide an undertaking to safe keep the data, limit its uses and destroy the information upon conclusion of its use.

How long will my DNA stay in the database?

If investigations find that you were ultimately not involved in committing a registrable or eligible crime, your information will automatically be removed.

If you were charged and convicted of the crime, your information will only be removed after you die or hit the ripe age of 100.

It gets a bit tricky if you were acquitted, compounded or granted a discharge amounting to acquittal of the offence. Under current law, your data will automatically be removed. However, the Bill now requires a person under these circumstances to apply to have their data removed.

Police will comply with this request unless it decides that the data is relevant to other ongoing prosecutions or investigations, or if retention of the data is necessary to safeguard Singapore’s national security.

An individual whose application is rejected can appeal to a reviewing tribunal, comprising a district judge or magistrate, within 30 days of the police’s decision. The tribunal’s decision is final.

But there is a caveat: If a person is acquitted of offences under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or the Internal Security Act, the Minister for Home Affairs could issue a certificate if he deems that retaining the data is in the interest of national security.

The reviewing tribunal must then dismiss the appeal if the police present this certificate.

Can I give my DNA even if I am not involved in police investigations?

Under current law, only people who were present at the crime scene or questioned in investigations can voluntarily provide their DNA.

The Bill will now allow any individual to provide their DNA voluntarily to the police. Volunteers can also request the police to delete their information at any time, and the police must comply with their request.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said it is currently not an offence for someone arrested for a registrable crime to refuse to give DNA. This is inaccurate. We apologise for the error.

Source: CNA/hz(cy)


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