Bill gives police the finger(print)


The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police has wrapped up its debate on the first part of the controversial Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill. The Bill has been split into two sections, with the first part allowing the South African Police Service (SAPS) access to other departmental fingerprint databases.

Implementation of the Bill has been delayed, despite being approved by Cabinet in December 2008, over concerns that a DNA database could infringe on citizens’ privacy. Subsequently, the bill was split into two aspects, with the fingerprint segment being tackled first by Parliament, ITWeb reports.

Debbie Schafer, the Democratic Alliance’s deputy shadow minister of police, expects the fingerprint aspect to be signed into law this year. She says the parliamentary committee has finished debating the Bill, and agreed on strict jail terms without the option of a fine for anyone found misusing or tampering with the profiles on the database.

Currently, police investigators do not have access to the Department of Home Affairs’ database, where the fingerprints of 31 million citizens and about 2.5 million foreign nationals are kept. Police are also unable to access information from the Department of Transport’s system, where the information and thumbprints of six million people are located. As a result, in a large proportion of cases, the perpetrators remain undetected.

The Bill is set to change this, and will allow police to identify or exonerate people, based on the broader databases, instead of just relying on the police records. “Anything that will assist the police [is to be welcomed] as long as it is done properly,” says Schafer. The DNA aspect of the Bill is still under debate and the parliamentary committee is set to undertake research into the effect it could have on privacy, she adds.

The Bill could allow for the creation of a database, using biometric technology, which would allow for DNA profiling, DNA typing, DNA fingerprinting or genetic fingerprinting. The profiling system would be linked to Hanis and eNatis.