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Privacy & Security

Every effort has been made to balance a suspect's right to privacy with the need for police officers to collect evidence. In accordance with the DNA Identification Act, the RCMP has imposed strict procedures governing the handling of DNA profiles and biological samples to ensure that privacy interests are protected. Information collected by the National DNA Data Bank will be used strictly for law enforcement purposes. All other uses including medical research are strictly prohibited and punishable by law.

A National DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee has also been established to advise the Commissioner of the RCMP on matters relating to the establishment and operation of the National DNA Data Bank.

The aim of the National DNA Data Bank is to provide an unprecedented investigative tool that will allow police to link crime scenes across jurisdictions and help in apprehending serial and repeat offenders. As well, it can help to focus an investigation by eliminating suspects whose DNA profile is already in the Data Bank, and can eliminate those wrongly suspected. By narrowing the field of suspects and linking crimes early in the investigation or helping to identify suspects, the Data Bank is expected to reduce the length and cost of many investigations. By providing greater certainty in the identity of suspects, it has the potential to reduce the length - and therefore the cost - of trial and to increase the likelihood of conviction.

During hearings by the House of Commons and Senate committees examining legislation leading to the DNA Identification Act, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada voiced concern about the protection of the privacy of individuals whose biological samples are in the DNA Data Bank. This could include persons incarcerated whose samples are retained by the Data Bank while the profile is contained in the Convicted Offenders Index, or persons whose DNA was collected at a crime scene and the DNA profile was forwarded to the Data Bank for possible matching.

The National DNA Data Bank has strict controls on the handling of samples and the information derived from them. Procedures have been developed which separates the genetic information (DNA profiles and sample card) from the personal information.

The Process

The National DNA Data Bank is a post conviction investigative tool. At the time a sample is collected from a convicted offender, a unique number or "bar code" is attached, and it remains the sole identifier throughout the analysis process so that the personal identity of the donor is not known to the DNA Data Bank staff.

When the collected samples are first received at the National DNA Data Bank, the fingerprints on the sample collection card and the fingerprint identification form are compared to ensure that they match. This is an important first step which confirms and maintains the integrity of the Data Bank information. After this confirmation of match, the biological sample is separated from the information contained on the fingerprint identification form. The fingerprint identification form and the documentation are then forwarded to the Canadian Criminal Records Information Service (CCRIS) within the RCMP's Information and Identification Services Directorate. The biological sample card, identified solely by its bar-code is transferred to the NDDB laboratory for analysis. Upon successful completion of the DNA profiling process a ''flag'' (which states ''DNA on known offender Data Bank'') is placed on the offender's CNI record on CPIC to indicate that the offender has a valid and reliable DNA profile entered into the COI. This is primarily provided as an easy reference check so that police officers or prosecutors may, under s.487.053 of the Criminal Code, advise the court that there is already a DNA profile belonging to the offender in the DNA Data Bank. If the DNA profile from a crime scene sample (analyzed by one of the operational forensic laboratories) matches the DNA profile from a convicted offender sample, the submitting laboratory is contacted by CCRIS and can then associate the crime scene sample with an individual.

When a match in the Crime Scene Index is found between two crime scene profiles, the submitting laboratories are notified. The identity of the donor or the specific nature of the biological sample (blood, hair, etc.) are not known to the staff of the DNA Data Bank. However, the operational forensic laboratories which originally submitted the DNA profile data from the crime scenes can now exchange information, linking the crime scenes.

The original card containing the biological samples and the resulting DNA profile will be retained. After considerable review, the decision to retain the original biological sample, as specified in the legislation, was made as a safeguard for enabling future forensic DNA technologies to be considered. In addition, by retaining the samples, any questions concerning a match or quality assurance can be addressed by reprocessing the original sample. However, in order to protect the privacy of the person in question, all intermediate DNA products developed during the analysis process and any remaining purified DNA will be destroyed.

Privacy Concerns

The question of privacy has been addressed in four ways in the implementation of the National DNA Data Bank.

  1. Scientific processes: the DNA analysis process used by the Data Bank examines only a small segment of the entire human DNA blueprint which encodes anonymous pieces of DNA. Apart from the ability to identify gender, there is no known link to physical or medical attributes.
  2. Methodology: by design, the genetic and personal data will be separated. The DNA Data Bank will have the DNA profile and original biological sample, but the personal information and full set of fingerprints of convicted offenders are in the custody of the Canadian Criminal Records Information Service (CCRIS), and are retained under strict security provisions.
  3. Physical parameters: it will not be possible for unauthorized persons to enter the Data Bank and view or retrieve data. In order to be able to interpret the data, specialized knowledge is required. For genetic DNA data to be linked to an individual, access to two separate and secure data bases, housed in separate locations, would be required.
  4. Legal: the Act specifies criminal penalties for unauthorized use of the DNA profile data or the samples themselves.

As an additional safeguard, plus an important transparent link to the public, the National DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee was appointed by the Solicitor General of Canada in early 2000 to function as an independent body to oversee the effectiveness and efficiency of the National DNA Data Bank. The Committee was established pursuant to the DNA Identification Act and the annexed Data Bank Advisory Committee Regulations and is charged to report to the Commissioner of the RCMP annually. Since the inauguration of the Committee and the opening of the Data Bank in June 2000, members have regularly reviewed all aspects of the implementation process and the Data Bank operations. Particular attention has been directed to the interrelationships between the Crime Scene Index and the Convicted Offenders Index. As well, the DNA Data Bank will be subject to auditing by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner at any time. Also, a representative of the Privacy Commissioner sits on the DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee to ensure that the Data Bank has available expert advice in the field of individual privacy.

The DNA Identification Act provides for criminal penalties for anyone communicating information relating to the biological samples being analyzed or retained, and penalties for using the data derived from the analysis for any purpose other than that intended. It is very clear in the Act that the DNA Data Bank is a post-conviction data bank providing an investigative tool for law enforcement purposes only.

The same standards that apply to the use of DNA profiles in Canada will govern international exchanges with other criminal justice organizations.

There is provision for cooperation with other jurisdictions in the use of this valuable investigative tool. Such interaction, however, must be sanctioned by international agreements that clearly define the conditions under which DNA profile data may be exchanged.

1.CODIS is the North American accepted standard for DNA profile data that allows for reliable and valid electronic transmission in a secure format. The FBI and the US Department of Justice provide the software at no charge to any law enforcement agency performing the DNA profiling procedure which follows a similar code of quality assurance and justice. Once the DNA profile is appropriately formatted, it is uploaded to CODIS from the Convicted Offender Index.