The Independent

Secret tests of DNA may be outlawed

By Charles Arthur Technology Editor
The Independent
22 May 2002

Secretly taking DNA samples to settle paternity cases or obtain information about an individual should be made a criminal offence, says Britain's genetic watchdog, the Human Genetics Commission (HGC).

The recommendation is one of a number of proposed rules on the use and storage of genetic data. It would prevent private detectives, journalists, employers or others obtaining genetic information without an individual's consent, or testing DNA for diseases, genetic conditions or family connections.

Last week, clandestinely obtained DNA was cited in what is expected to become the world's most expensive child support case, involving the American film producer Steve Bing, a former boyfriend of the British actress Liz Hurley.

Kirk Kerkorian, 84, the Californian billionaire owner of MGM studios, is fighting a claim from his ex-wife Lisa Bonder for £223,000 a month maintenance for her four-year-old daughter, Kira. He told a Los Angeles court that Mr Bing was the child's biological father after a DNA test on a piece of dental floss taken from a dustbin by private detectives.

Under the new legislation proposed by the commission, obtaining a DNA sample in this way would be outlawed.

Ms Hurley also claims Mr Bing fathered her child, Damian. The High Court could order DNA tests on her son if the two parties fail to reach an amicable agreement.

The only exception to the commission's proposed rules would be when collecting or testing DNA was for legally authorised forensic or medical purposes. But the commission called for checks on the police and other law enforcement bodies, saying they should not have access to genetic databases containing information on individuals for medical research.

Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, chairwoman of the commission, said unauthorised taking of DNA was "a gross intrusion into another's privacy" but noted that there was no legal protection against it at present.

The plans were attacked as "pulling punches" by an independent watchdog, which said the commission's rules would be too weak. Dr David King, of Human Genetics Alert, which is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, said: "There's a need for something that establishes the principle that genetic data is private, and that violating that privacy is an offence. The HGC's proposed legislation only covers a narrow set of circumstances, and fails to establish that basic right of privacy."

2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd