The recent Motorway rape case has elicited widespread rage and condemnation. The national manhunt has gone on sluggishly, with the government and police struggling to appease the public outcry. 

As we all contemplate long-term reforms, we must address the immediate need for establishing a universal DNA database for tracing out serious cases of terrorism and violent crimes like murder and rape. 

The need for a DNA database was earlier highlighted in the Zainab murder and rape case when it was successfully traced and convicted through DNA evidence. The need for such a database has been felt across the globe.

Recently the New York Times, quoting a study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, reported that the Chinese government is developing a nation-wide DNA database. 

In collaboration with a Massachusetts company –Thermo Fisher- China has amassed the world’s largest trove of genetic material, nearing almost 80 million profiles. Similarly, an Arizona state legislator in the US posited an obligatory DNA registration law- stowed alongside citizen’s name and Social Security number. 

The United Kingdom too has mulled over establishing a compulsory national DNA database. 

One might wonder, given the vastly disturbing and incessant abuse cases in Pakistan, is it a viable move?  

The benefits of having such a database are quite obvious and it seems like it would be inevitable to have such a database in future. These databases are developed to counter intensifying criminal activity. 

Since the database matches genetic material found on the crime scene with pre-existing DNA profiles it results in instantaneous and exceedingly accurate criminal investigations and convictions. 

This helps shorten manhunts and alleviate overburdened courts and policing systems. It might also mitigate constant religious, sectarian and ethnic tensions. These have had a bearing on our criminal justice system, with it being branded bigoted in many tribal areas of Baluchistan, Sindh and elsewhere.

An empirical system would render any prejudice or perception of persecution obsolete. In the presence of acknowledged DNA in court, no one could sway the case one way or the other. 

There is great potential for swift dispensation of justice through a credible system dependent on science and not on human testimony. 

Notably, family trees share an uncanny semblance and might help fill up any caveats springing from unknown personnel. However, effective prosecution is reliant on the DNA being deemed viable evidence by the courts.

This would require legislation having due regard to the rights of privacy, due process and equal protection of laws granted to the citizens under the constitution.

Overall, the database has a distinct potential to curb a myriad of crimes such as terrorism, murder, rape and theft. Fortunately, there is scope for international collaboration as well. Forums like the United Nations or Interpol might prompt intertwined databases to counter international crime: white-collar, terrorism and such.

There are however serious contrary opinions about the utility of such a database as well. DNA is a unique, rather sacrosanct, identity marker and instinctively people prefer to keep it that way. Granting the state an open mandate to coerce citizens and morph their genes into state property would be in contravention to a multitude of laws.

Firstly, reconciling such draconian measures with the constitution will be problematic since it offends the rights to privacy, liberty & peace of mind-enshrined under Articles 14(1) & 9 of the Constitution, respectively. Secondly, this move would violate Pakistan’s international commitments; for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other United Nations resolutions’.

Basically, instituting an unavoidable database would invite a legal conundrum.

For Pakistan, with our deep-seated economic woes, the finances of the database are imperative. Instating a whole system to overlook the database will incur astronomical costs.

So why not simply invest in conventional systems of justice dispensation? Directing funds to an array of institutions might be safer than concentrating them under one wing.

Contrarily, the policing and judicial systems could use such an intervention that might lift their capacity for investigation and conviction of criminal cases.

Then, some reasons are rather inimitably linked with our Pakistani milieu. The DNA system contains sensitive information which is vulnerable to hacking. Lying in the midst of both dormant and active transnational threats, Pakistan would be particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks. Ominously, there is an associated risk of sabotage: genetic material could be planted in a bid to incriminate people for political or personal purposes.

With such loopholes and some opportunism, the latter is more likely. Too many exceptions in the collection mandate might still end up undermining the program. 

Preferably, the preliminary skeleton would encompass only DNA from convicts and grant citizens a right to refusal.

This can later on be expanded to universal DNA collection with sufficient safeguards for protection of rights of citizens.

Only with well-defined institutional safeguards-backed by judicious legislative support-the system would be perceived to be robust and neutral.

With incessant abuse cases and rising crime, a genetic evidentiary gold standard might be exactly the reform we need.

Hopefully, for the common citizenry it won’t turn out like Orwell’s dystopian1984.

– The author is a law student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He is on the Dean’s Honor List, Director for the Law & Politics society and on the editorial team of the Law Journal.