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DNA database law may infringe rights

July 26, 2011 - 19:42 By 이선영
Panel cites too broad sampling scope, need for presumption of innocence

A law permitting the collection and storage of DNA samples from those convicted of or arrested for violent crimes may infringe on their human rights, the nation’s top human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

“The commission ruled that the law on the use and preservation of personal genetic information may infringe upon the affected person’s self-decision right regarding his or her private information,” the Human Rights Committee said in a statement.

“We will deliver our opinion to the Constitutional Court for reference,” it said.

The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the law in five separate cases.

The law on DNA collection and storage, which took effect last July, allows law enforcement authorities to collect genetic information of those convicted of or arrested for violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and arson. The information is then encoded and permanently stored in the police and prosecutorial database.

Crime and forensic experts have hailed it, as it has led to breakthroughs in many cold cases. For instance, a man was caught for robbery in Busan last month. Police found after comparing his DNA with the database that his DNA matched that from three unsolved child rape cases five or six years earlier.

Controversy flared recently, however, after prosecutors were found to have collected DNA samples of union workers on strike at Ssangyong Motor Co. and eviction protestors in Yongsan, Seoul.

The rights panel judged the law problematic as the range of crimes it can apply to, including property damage and burglary, is too wide, and that it allows storage of DNA data of all related suspects, regardless of their likelihood of reoffending.

Also, the law may undermine the basic principle of presumption of innocence, as it enables the collection of DNA samples from arrested suspects.

The panel also judged that the indefinite storage of criminals’ genetic data is excessive. They should be stored only for a certain period of time, it said.

By Lee Sun-young (