Expert: DNA database must weigh security with privacy

Soo Wern Jun
Sundramoorthy sai having a DNA database would help with law enforcement in terms of solving cold cases involving children’s abduction as well as preventing identity theft cases. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — The proposed DNA database by the National Registration Department (NRD) is a good move to counter the illegal issuance of MyKad to foreigners but authorities must consider individual privacy rights, said criminologist P. Sundramoorthy.

Sundramoorthy, of Universiti Sains Malaysia, described the proposal as a very proactive and progressive suggestion for quashing syndicates responsible for such offences, but said human rights activists will likely express privacy concerns.

“But as a criminologist, I would say that we have to give a little bit of our liberty for the sake of public safety.

“When you talk about public safety, a DNA database will invade your privacy. You cannot deny that but it gives more good than harm to society,” he said in an interview with The Star.

Sundramoorthy added that apart from the NRD registration, having a DNA database would also help with law enforcement in terms of solving cold cases involving children’s abduction as well as preventing identity theft cases.

“It is a good suggestion. Even in some countries, it has become a practice for them, especially in investigating criminal cases.

“Firstly, for the confirmation of the identity of a person or individual; secondly, for criminal databases; and thirdly, for identifying genetic diseases,” he said, adding that a universal DNA database was also becoming a trend.

Sundramoorthy was commenting on the NRD’s proposal to introduce new security measures including increased spot-checks and regular rotation of officers following the recent exposure of a syndicate in Penang that sold Malaysian identity cards to foreigners.

On the rotation of NRD officers, he said while this would help, such a move would not be viable in the long term.

He pointed out that the most important thing is to professionally train the officers to adhere to strict conduct and good work ethics with a high standard of integrity.

“If we don’t have honest officers, rotation or any law implemented will not be useful.

“From the first day of our hiring process, we need to emphasise this,” he said.

Agreeing with the rotation of officers, Malaysian Association of Certified Fraud Examiners president Datuk Akhbar Satar said ensuring NRD officers would not remain at their post for more than two years was a good deterrent against corrupt practices and abuse of power.

“Proper supervision and monitoring of personnel are also needed to identify any red flags in terms of conduct.

“For example, if a superior identifies that a certain personnel is too close to the client, then such red flags can be acted upon. They can advise the personnel before such matters lead to misconduct,” he said.

Commending this move by the Home Ministry as timely, Akhbar urged the government to be more proactive in preventing fraud and corruption.

On the other hand, Suhakam commissioner Datuk Godfrey Gregory Joitol said stopping the registration of late births at NRD branches and only allowing this at the headquarters might worsen the problem of documentation for locals, especially in remote areas of Sabah.

“It is as if the people are being punished for the corrupt action of NRD officers,” he said.

Tightening of NRD’s standard operating procedures, including immediately halting the late registration of births at NRD offices at the state level and requiring this to be done only at the national headquarters for added security, were security measures decided during a committee meeting last Wednesday on the improvement of NRD’s delivery system chaired by the ministry’s secretary-general, Tan Sri Alwi Ibrahim.

 

He however said he supported the review of the NRD’s standard operating procedures.

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