The impact of forensic DNA profiling on gender privacy

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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Forensic DNA profiling used in conjunction with a DNA database is considered a powerful tool in the fight against crime borne out of its ability to link serial offenders, identify who was present on a crime scene, exonerate the innocent as well as match human remains to missing persons. Identification is achieved by the statistical matching of an “unknown” forensic DNA profile to that of a known reference sample, and not on any physical information that can potentially be derived from the DNA. It is questionable then, why the legal definition of a forensic DNA profile states that no physical, medical, or behavioural information may be derived therefrom other than the sex of that person. This study therefore investigates whether biological sex should be considered private information and if the disclosure of the sex in a forensic DNA profile infringes on gender privacy. This was done by examining the purpose of a biological sex marker in forensic casework, interrogating the development and contents of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act 37 of 2013 (the “DNA Act”), exploring the concept of gender privacy and how it relates to the DNA Act, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (the “Constitution”) and human rights (and the balance thereof in criminal cases), as well as comparing these factors to international human rights instruments and legal systems in other countries. A key finding of this study is that the concept of gender privacy has not been formally defined in national or international law, thus a definition thereof is proposed. It further emerged that there is limited legal and scientific regard for the differences between gender identity and biological sex, as these terms are often used interchangeably. This research accordingly highlights the critical need to use these terms accurately in the forensic setting. This study shows that the knowledge of an individual’s biological sex is not always necessary in forensic criminal cases and argues that disclosing the sex in forensic DNA profiling reports may infringe on that individual's right to gender privacy. It suggests that the protection of a person's gender privacy could be achieved without recourse to the disclosure of the sex of a person in forensic DNA reports, unless in specific (limited) instances when it is necessary for the promotion of justice. This novel revelation has a global impact insofar as re-conceptualising the difference between gender identity and biological sex in the context of forensic science and promotes a deeper understanding of how these scientific, legal and social concepts are so intricately related. Changes to legislation are recommended to provide vulnerable minorities with a right to gender privacy, as an extended right to privacy in the Constitution.
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Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2022.
Forensic genetics -- Law and legislation -- South Africa, DNA fingerprinting, Gender identity -- Law and legislation -- South Africa, Gender privacy, Criminal investigation, UCTD