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MHA tables Bill to give police more powers to collect, use DNA data

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is proposing amendments to a criminal registration law that will allow the police to collect blood samples from more crime suspects in order to expand its DNA database and better solve crimes.

Currently, the present law empowers the police to collect DNA as well as other types of identifying information, like fingerprints and photographs, from the accused or suspects of registrable crimes.

Currently, the present law empowers the police to collect DNA as well as other types of identifying information, like fingerprints and photographs, from the accused or suspects of registrable crimes.

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is proposing amendments to a criminal registration law that will allow the police to collect blood samples from more crime suspects in order to expand its DNA database and better solve crimes
  • The amendment will make it a crime for relevant crime suspects to refuse to provide blood samples to the police without a reasonable excuse
  • Individuals can apply for their data to be removed if they are exonerated from the said crimes, but these will be reviewed taking into consideration other investigations or concerns regarding national security

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is proposing amendments to a criminal registration law that will allow the police to collect blood samples from more crime suspects in order to expand its DNA database and better solve crimes.

The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on Monday (Aug 1), will also allow more individuals to step forward and offer their DNA information to the police if passed.

Doing so will also enable the authorities to use such information for purposes beyond criminal proceedings.

Currently, the present law empowers the police to collect DNA as well as other types of identifying information, like fingerprints and photographs, from the accused or suspects of registrable crimes.

A registrable crime refers to serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, which would put the convicted individual in a Register of Criminals.

"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," said MHA in a press release.

The proposed changes will allow the authorities to compare DNA recovered from a crime scene to a larger database, making this a more effective tool in aiding crime investigations, it added.

In response to TODAY's queries, an MHA spokesperson said that around 60 per cent of crime scene DNA samples collected between 2017 and 2021 were unmatched to the existing DNA database.

"This shows that if we expanded our DNA database, DNA information could play a bigger role and help in solving crimes," said the spokesperson.

One example of a crime solved with the assistance of DNA analysis was a rape case in 2002, involving a Malaysian man, Lee Ah Choy.

Lee had abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl in Singapore in 2002, but the case went cold until 2014 when he was arrested in Singapore for an alleged theft.

When a blood sample was taken from him and an analysis was done, it was found that his DNA profile matched the one taken from the rape scene and the victim’s body, said MHA's statement. Lee was then sentenced to jail and caning.

COLLECT FROM WIDER POOL OF CRIME SUSPECTS

The amendment seeks to widen the scope of collection to other serious but non-registrable crimes, collectively referred to in the Bill as “eligible crimes”.

These are offences which can result in prison sentences and are not compoundable by the public prosecutor or a person authorised by legislation.

Examples of eligible crimes include affray, unlawful stalking and voluntarily causing hurt.

Crimes which are not compoundable “are generally considered to be more serious, such that offenders are not allowed to pay composition sums in lieu of prosecution”, said MHA.

A ministry spokesperson told TODAY that approximately 23 per cent of individuals convicted for registrable crimes between 2017 and 2021 were previously convicted for less serious, non-registrable crimes.

MHA said the amendments will allow the police to expand their identifying information databases and thus enhance their investigative capabilities by collecting for eligible crimes.

However, it would not affect an individual’s conviction records, “as these crimes remain non-registrable”, the ministry added.

Meanwhile, individuals who commit less serious offences that are compoundable and not imprisonable will still be excluded from the Bill and the police would not be able to collect DNA and non-DNA identifying information from them. 

Such offences include some traffic offences or failure to comply with Covid-19 safe management measures, said MHA.

EXPANDED USE OF DNA INFORMATION

Currently, the police can only use DNA information for purposes related to criminal investigations and criminal proceedings.

“This means that the police cannot use the DNA information for other non-prescribed purposes, even if it is in the public interest,” said the ministry.

The amendments seek to allow the police to use DNA information to:

  • Identify a dead person for investigation purposes or for inquiries into a death
  • Allow the police to identify and help a person who is otherwise unable to identify himself

The proposed changes will also allow the police to collect both non-DNA and DNA identifying information from individuals who are either arrested, detained or served with a Restriction Order under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Under the current law, the police are only allowed to collect fingerprints and photographs of individuals arrested or detained under the ISA.

This is to “better safeguard against threats to our national security”, said the MHA.

NEW OFFENCE FOR REFUSAL TO GIVE BLOOD SAMPLE

The proposed amendment would make it an offence for relevant crime suspects to refuse to provide their blood samples to the police without reasonable excuse.

If convicted, they can be fined up to S$1,000 or jailed for up to a month, or both.

Presently, it is only an offence for individuals who have committed a registrable crime to refuse to have their photograph or fingerprints taken, while “only a negative inference may be drawn against” individuals who refuse to provide their blood sample for DNA information without good cause.

REMOVAL OF DATA, LEGISLATIVE SAFEGUARDS

Under the existing law, the police are required to immediately remove DNA information of individuals who are acquitted or discharged by the court, had their offence compounded or found to be not involved in the commission of any crime.

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

The Bill proposes to allow people to apply to the police to delete their data. The authorities will then be compelled to do so, unless they have strong reasons otherwise.

For instance, if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the retention of the information is relevant to other ongoing prosecutions or investigations, or that keeping the data is necessary to safeguard national security, then they can deny the request for data deletion.

The individual can make an appeal if the police reject their application. This will be heard by an independent reviewing tribunal, comprising a district judge or a magistrate.

If the tribunal grants the appeal, the police will be compelled to remove the relevant data from the database. The decision made by the reviewing tribunal will be final for such cases.

The Minister for Home Affairs may issue a certificate if the retention of the person's data is in the interests of national security, where the individual's acquittal is in relation to offences under ISA or the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act. The Minister's certificate is (would be?) conclusive evidence, and the tribunal must dismiss the appeal if the certificate is presented by the police.

Related topics

Ministry of Home Affairs DNA crime Police

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