The scope of crimes eligible for the police to collect DNA and identifying information will be expanded, following the passage of a Bill in Parliament.
Expanding the scope of DNA collection
Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling delivered the second reading of the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill 2022 in Parliament on Sep. 12. She proposed to expand the scope for the collection of DNA and identifying information.
DNA information refers to genetic information derived from the forensic DNA analysis of a body sample, such as a blood, buccal or hair sample. Identifying information refers to other information that can help identify an individual. This includes fingerprints, photographs and descriptions of the individual such as sex and age.
She also proposed three other amendments; expand the prescribed uses of DNA information, strengthen the protection of DNA information, and introduce procedures to allow the removal of information in the databases.
"This Bill therefore seeks to enhance the police’s capabilities to solve crime, using DNA evidence," Sun said.
How the scope will be expanded
This will be done in four ways.
1. Collecting DNA from non-registrable crimes
At present, the police can only take fingerprints and body samples from an individual who is accused of, convicted of, or imprisoned for a registrable crime.
Registrable crimes are crimes in the First or Second Schedule to the Registration of Criminals Act, such as murder, rape, and robbery. However, collecting this information from people involved in non-registrable crimes may help to identify suspects more easily.
"Our statistics show that about one in three individuals convicted of a registrable crime between 2017 and 2021, had been previously convicted of a non-registrable crime.
If we had been able to collect DNA and identifying information from these individuals when they were convicted of a non-registrable crime, we might have been able to identify them a lot more swiftly, when they later re-offended and committed the registrable crime."
The Bill will create a new category of crimes, called "eligible crimes", and the police can collect DNA and identifying information from people involved in these crimes too.
Eligible crimes are defined as offences that are both punishable with imprisonment and not compoundable under any written law, where offenders are not allowed to pay composition sums in lieu of prosecution, with some exceptions.
Examples include voluntarily causing hurt and affray, but exclude minor offences such as littering and illegal parking.
2. Collecting DNA from those detained or served with a detention or restriction order
Sun proposed the collection of DNA information and identifying information from individuals who are arrested, detained, or served with a detention or restriction order under the Internal Security Act.
At the present time, the authorities can only collect fingerprints (not DNA) from individuals who are arrested or detained under the ISA, and not those served with a restriction order.
3. Allowing DNA to be volunteered
Sun proposed that individuals be allowed to volunteer their DNA information and identifying information, should they wish to do so, to assist the police in their investigations.
The police are required to remove the volunteers' information from the databases, should they apply to the police.
4, Expand the legislative powers for DNA collection
The Bill will make it an offence if an individual refuses to provide a blood sample, without a reasonable excuse.
Additionally, it will be an offence for parents or guardians of individuals below the age of 16 to withhold consent, without reasonable excuse, for an invasive sample to be taken from that individual.
Blood samples taken must not endanger the individual, and will be obtained by pricking the person's fingertip to get a small amount of blood.
If they have a reasonable excuse to refuse giving a blood sample, such as having haemophilia, the police will obtain other body samples instead.
Expanded use of DNA data, and safeguards
In addition to widening the scope of DNA collection, there will be a widened use of such information, as well as safeguards.
The Bill will allow DNA information to be used in the following circumstances of public interest:
- Investigation or inquiry into a death
- Identifying a dead individual
- Identifying an individual in order to provide police assistance to the individual
"The police (will also have) the discretion to share DNA information of an individual convicted of a registrable crime, with foreign law enforcement agencies for investigations and proceedings, where it is appropriate to do so," Sun said.
The foreign authorities must undertake to safekeep the information, and limit its use to the specified purpose only.
Safeguards to protect the information stored in police databases will be legislated.
"Access to the DNA database will be restricted to authorised officers. Every access to the database will be recorded, and we will provide for an audit trail," Sun said.
The Home Affairs Minister can make rules to introduce safeguards that the Registrar must implement, to protect the information recorded in the databases against any loss, modification, or unauthorised access.
DNA and identifying information will be automatically removed from the database if the suspect has been cleared of the crime or found not to have acted in a manner prejudicial to Singapore's security, if they were arrested or detained under the ISA.
Individuals who are acquitted or given a discharge amounting to an acquittal by the Court and individuals who have their offences compounded, can apply to the Registrar for their information to be removed.
Upon the individual’s application, the Registrar will remove all DNA and identifying information of the individual from the databases, unless it's relevant for any ongoing prosecution or investigation, or it's in the interests of the security of Singapore to retain the information.
Any person who disagrees with the decision of the Registrar may appeal to a Reviewing Tribunal.
Enhance police's crime solving capabilities
Sun said DNA profiling is a better forensic tool than fingerprint matching as it can be derived from multiple sources, such as through the saliva, sweat, or blood found at the crime scene.
If the scope of DNA collection is expanded, the chances of getting a DNA match with a larger police DNA database would be higher, and therefore potentially help the police crack the case faster.
Sun mentioned cases overseas where the real culprits were identified after many years due to DNA evidence, and innocent suspects were exonerated.
She specifically mentioned the notorious Hwaesong serial murders in South Korea, which were depicted in Bong Joon Ho's movie "Memories of Murder".
"For instance, between 1986 and 1991, 10 women were killed in Hwaseong, Korea. A man was sentenced to life imprisonment. Almost 30 years later in 3 2019, through DNA analysis of crime scene samples, Police eventually identified the real killer, and the innocent man was exonerated."
The Bill was passed by Parliament after time of writing.
Top image screenshot from Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore/YouTube