SCMP Wednesday, June 28, 2000

LEGCO

Go-ahead given for database of DNA samples

CRIME by SUSAN SHIU


The first DNA database in Hong Kong is to be set up soon, after Legco passed a bill yesterday allowing samples to be taken from those suspected or convicted of serious crimes.

Under the Dangerous Drugs, Independent Commission Against Corruption and Police Force (Amendment) Ordinance, police and anti-graft officers can be authorised to take DNA samples from anyone suspected or convicted of "serious arrestable offences".

The DNA will be stored permanently in the database, although suspects who are not convicted will have their samples destroyed. The data could be retrieved and matched if the criminals are suspected of involvement in other offences.

Serious arrestable offences are those that carry a jail term of not less than seven years.

An attempt by Democrat James To Kun-sun to specify in the law that Chinese state organs should be barred from access to the database was voted down.

Another amendment by Mr To to limit the administration's right to match DNA data to subsequent serious arrestable crimes, not lesser ones, was also defeated.

Mr To and Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier expressed concern about the future use of DNA samples. Mr To said: "Technology is developing, we don't know what DNA will tell in the future. We only know that the data may affect the privacy of an individual. This reminds me of 'Big Brother' in the [George Orwell] novel 1984."

Ms Lau urged the Government to conduct a review at a later date to monitor the gathering of DNA data as she feared the Government might accumulate many samples after a few years.

The Government estimates about 5,000 cases might require DNA tests each year. Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said it was difficult to know what other crimes a person whose sample had been taken might become involved in.

She said there was no need to bar access to Beijing specifically, as the law already barred any person, including state officers, from the database. That meant state organs could not access it. Mrs Ip said DNA data would help greatly in the investigation of crimes.

She dismissed fears about intrusion of privacy, because the DNA data was just a set of figures and meaningless to members of the public.