RCMP – CODIS
Canada’s National DNA Data Bank relies heavily on robotic technology to dramatically speed up the processing and analysis of DNA samples. The robotics, combined with a world-class inventory and sample tracking system allows the National DNA Data Bank personnel to process more samples in less time and at a significantly lower cost than other facilities around the world.
There are two significant and mission-critical scientific technology components of the National DNA Data Bank operation. The first is the Sample Tracking and Control System (STaCS™), which tracks and provides high throughput and safeguards for the processing, integrity and privacy of DNA samples. The second is the COmbined DNA Index System, (CODIS), a software program provided at no cost to the RCMP by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice.
The Sample Tracking and Control System was designed and built to achieve the following major objectives:
High throughput and process control for DNA samples in the National DNA Data Bank;
Management reporting and control;
Continuity of handling for DNA samples
Quality assurance and control; and,
Partial cost recovery through licensing agreements.
STaCS™ integrates instrumentation with process and ensures that advances in DNA forensic identification technology and sample tracking can be applied to large scale DNA typing and comparison in the most efficient manner. The objective of the system is to provide a mechanism for creating a database of known convicted offenders and a process by which the profile data can be formatted for entry into CODIS. The STaCS™ information system tracks, controls and documents all the steps in a process that converts biological samples (blood, buccal or hair) from convicted offenders into simplified numeric DNA profiles. These profiles can then be matched against DNA profiles generated from samples found at crime scenes. It also ensures that the whereabouts of each sample and all of its derivatives are accounted for and provides essential data for troubleshooting the scientific process.
STaCS™ provides an important accountability record for all maintenance, sample manipulation, machine/human interface and quality assurance that is fundamental to valid and reliable DNA processing.
COmbined DNA Index System (CODIS)
The purpose of the COmbined DNA Index System (CODIS) is to create a national information repository where forensic laboratory professionals can share DNA information.
Law enforcement agencies can cross-reference their DNA information with that of other agencies across the country via a network linking the six RCMP forensic laboratories, the two provincial laboratories in Ontario and Quebec and the National DNA Data Bank.
This “cross-referencing” has the potential to produce DNA matches among previously unrelated cases. There are approximately a dozen countries currently using the CODIS software in their investigative forensic data banks. Another 14 countries are evaluating it as the preferred international standard format to ensure compatibility and an acceptably high level of quality assurance and security.
The DNA profiles in the Crime Scene Index are provided by our partner forensic laboratories (the six RCMP laboratories and the two provincial laboratories). This demonstrates how the National DNA Data Bank, on behalf of the National Police Services is working in cooperation to assist all police investigation agencies across Canada
National DNA Data Bank
Abbreviated executive summary
The use of forensic DNA analysis in solving crime is proving to be as revolutionary as the introduction of fingerprint evidence in court more than a century ago. Also referred to as the blueprint of life, DNA is the fundamental building block for your entire genetic makeup. The DNA in your blood is the same as that in your skin cells, saliva, semen (in males) and the roots of your hair. Highly discriminating, DNA is a powerful tool for identifying individuals. Using modern technology, DNA can be extracted from a small biological sample, such as a few drops of blood. The sample can be analyzed, creating a DNA profile that can be used to identify each and every one of us.
DNA collected from a crime scene can either link a suspect to the scene, or rule the suspect out as a perpetrator. Evidence from different crime scenes can be compared to link the same perpetrator to multiple offences whether the crimes took place locally, across the country or halfway around the world. It can identify an unknown victim or exclude a suspect through the comparison of DNA profiles. The DNA profile information developed for forensic applications represents a select set of universally accepted DNA markers that, apart from a gender identification capability (sex identification), do not encode or specify any personal physical or medical attributes associated with a donor. In fact it is the anonymous nature of the forensic DNA markers that permits DNA variations to evolve in the human population and ensures the ability to distinguish between individuals. The more personal information found in certain DNA markers that specify function, or human attributes and traits such as disease, are not freely evolving and do not have the level of variation or “genetic polymorphism” required to distinguish between individuals and therefore are not used for forensic applications or housed within forensic DNA data bases.
The RCMP started doing DNA analysis in 1989 but, at this early stage, there was no central coordination at the national level that could help police take full advantage of the developing advances in DNA technology. In order for this tool to reach its full potential, there was a need to coordinate investigations across the country. With support from all levels of government, the general public and police agencies throughout Canada, decisive steps were taken to create the National DNA Data Bank (NDDB).
Confirming the Government of Canada’s commitment to combat crime, especially violent crime, Bill C-3, The DNA Identification Act (S.C. 1998 c.37) received Royal Assent on December 10, 1998 and was proclaimed in force on June 30th, 2000. The NDDB is responsible for two principal indices:
- The Convicted Offenders Index (COI) is the electronic index developed from DNA profiles collected from offenders convicted of designated primary and secondary offences identified in section 487.04 of the Criminal Code; and,
- The Crime Scene Index (CSI) is a separate electronic index composed of DNA profiles obtained from crime scene investigations of the same designated offences addressed in the DNA Identification Act.
The convicted offender biological samples (blood, buccal or hair) are collected post- convictionally from across Canada and are processed by the NDDB in Ottawa.
The NDDB became operational in June 30, 2000. At the time this PIA was written, approximately 277,590 DNA samples have been processed and added to the NDDB, along with more than 88,892 DNA profiles developed from crime scenes across Canada. Each time DNA information from these samples is entered into the NDDB’s indices, there is a potential to unlock a key investigative lead, solve an old case, and/or link several cases together. The role of the NDDB is to assist law enforcement agencies in solving crime by:
- Linking crimes together where there are no suspects;
- Helping to identify suspects;
- Eliminating suspects where there is no match between crime scene DNA and profiles in the NDDB; and
- Determining whether a serial offender is involved.
In summary, the NDDB was created by the DNA Identification Act to establish a national DNA repository of DNA profiles to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed specific designated criminal offences.
The NDDB improves the administration of justice by ensuring that those who commit serious crimes are identified more quickly across all jurisdictions in Canada while innocent people are eliminated from suspicion.
The protection of society and the administration of justice are well served by the early detection, arrest and conviction of offenders which can be facilitated by matching DNA profiles developed from the crime scene to other crime scenes and from DNA profiles derived from samples collected post-convictionally from offenders.
Reason for completion of the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)
The NDDB came into force on June 30, 2000 and preceded the PIA legislation. Changes to the number of DNA markers and improvements in technology are required to improve discrimination potential between two DNA samples. As the number of DNA profiles increases in the NDDB, additional tests are required to improve the ability to identify matches between a large number of individuals and to enhance exclusion of closely related individuals. Although they contain no additional personal physical or medical attributes associated with a donor, the inclusion of additional genetic markers for comparison and discrimination purposes adds to the information retained in the National DNA Data Bank. The collection of this additional genetic information represents a change for the NDDB and has resulted in the development of this PIA.
Type of personal information
The NDDB receives two types of personal DNA profile information to populate the COI and the CSI:
COI biological samples collected by police officers across Canada post-convictionally following a judicial order to obtain a sample from a specific offender convicted of a designated criminal offence as noted in the DNA Identification Act, S.C. 1988 chap. 37 and as amended. The DNA sample and identification information is collected without consent according to the specific requirements of the DNA Identification Act.
The CSI information contained within the NDDB is populated electronically through a secure encrypted data link using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) software program. In the interest of creating a high quality universal standard for forensic DNA data matching and protected secure data sharing format, CODIS was developed and maintained by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Canada along with 39 other countries has accepted the use of CODIS for forensic DNA data bases, and the NDDB sits on the development and review committee for CODIS.
The RCMP through the NDDB provides the CODIS link to the three public forensic operational service laboratories in Canada (RCMP Forensic and Identification Services in Ottawa, Ontario, the Centre of Forensic Sciences, in Toronto, Ontario and Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal, Quebec) and through NDDB trained dedicated CODIS operators at each site.
Authorization and access to NDDB information
The authorized users of the NDDB DNA profiles are members of the NDDB. Matches associated with DNA profiles housed within the COI and CSI are reported as DNA matches to Canadian Criminal Records Real Time Identification Services (CCRTIS) for COI to CSI matches or in the case of CSI to CSI matches, directly through CODIS to the public forensic laboratories which provided the CSI DNA profile information. Release of the donor identification of the COI sample can only be made by CCRTIS since this information is not contained within the NDDB. External clients of National Police Services (NPS) can request a DNA CSI profile be searched against another country’s DNA data base through an Interpol DNA Exchange agreement. Requests for searching the NDDB by Interpol member countries can be made through the Interpol DNA Exchange agreement, following a review by RCMP International Exchange Services.
Information collected and duration of the program
The NDDB and the DNA Identification Act are long term endeavours of the Government of Canada and although modifications to the DNA Identification Act may occur over time, the mandate of the program will remain the same and the information retained will be governed by the requirements of the legislation in place at that time.
Collection of a DNA sample from a designated convicted offender is a requirement of the DNA Identification Act and the disclosure of the DNA sample, DNA profile and associated information is specifically noted. There is no secondary purpose and personal information is governed by the DNA Identification Act in accordance with RCMP Personal Information Bank (PIB) PPU 005. The purpose of the DNA Identification Act and the NDDB is to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences. The use of and access to the information is controlled such that only members of the NDDB have access to genetic information but do not have a means of identifying the donor. Similarly disclosure of a DNA match with a specific offender is disclosed by CCRTIS after notification by the NDDB. CCRTIS does not have access to genetic information, and all candidate matches reported by CCRTIS to a public forensic laboratory, require the laboratory and police investigator to verify the information. Should the police investigator decide to proceed further with the investigation, a warrant sample from the alleged suspect must be taken following proper judicial authority to proceed further. It is the warrant sample and resulting DNA information that is processed as evidence for criminal investigation and confirms the accuracy of the DNA match and associated evidence. Other than notification of a potential candidate match between a potential convicted offender and a crime scene DNA profile or crime scene to crime scene DNA profile, the original biological sample, DNA profile data or other information contained in the NDDB cannot be used for an ongoing criminal investigation. Disclosure of NDDB information is specifically addressed in the DNA Identification Act and failure to comply carries criminal penalties. In addition, release of knowledge concerning a match in the NDDB is considered prejudicial to the courts.
Access to NDDB data is strictly controlled, and provided only to personnel working in the NDDB at the enhanced reliable or higher security access. Changes to CSI profile information can be made by the CODIS lab user according to CODIS guidelines and NDDB policy. Transactions or changes are recorded as part of the quality assurance requirements of the NDDB. In addition, disposal or purging of biological samples or DNA profiles according to the DNA Identification Act, are witnessed and recorded. A threat risk assessment for the NDDB remains in effect and privacy risks have been identified. Security breaches due to unauthorized access will be investigated and if required prosecuted according to the DNA Identification Act and Criminal Code. Standard RCMP reporting procedures for security breaches are used. If a security breach were to occur, notification would be made to the Assistant Commissioner of Forensic Science and Identification Services (FS&IS) with appropriate follow-up. If a security breach affects end-users such as Canadian public forensic laboratories or police clients, notification will be made directly through CODIS with follow-up to the agencies that are impacted.
Disposition and access to NDDB personal information
In accordance with RCMP A.M. 3.11 a formal request can be made to Access to Information Privacy (ATIP). Informal requests, as per policy, can be made to the program area which collects the personal information. It should be noted that the DNA Identification Act does not permit the disclosure of genetic information or DNA profiles to an individual. No personal information is retained by the NDDB. Access depends on the privacy legislation in place and the DNA Identification Act.
Retention and disposition of information contained within the NDDB follows the prescribed requirements of the DNA Identification Act. Access to the information in the CSI is permanently removed by the contributing forensic laboratory according to Regulations associated with the DNA Identification Act, if the information relates to a DNA profile derived from a bodily substance of a victim or person eliminated as a suspect in the relevant investigation. Access to information in the COI shall be permanently removed without delay if the information in relation to the person is quashed and final acquittal entered, or discharged under section 730 of the Criminal Code (absolute or conditionally discharged) or in the case of information about a young person according to the Youth Criminal Justice Act as detailed in Section 9(2). CCRTIS is required to notify the NDDB of the need for sample disposition/destruction or record suspension.
Although it is considered highly unlikely, that NDDB information or samples would be misused, detailed tracking of all transactions and processes are maintained. Issues associated with accidental misuse would be identified in the quality assurance Corrective Action log according to ISO Accreditation guidelines, and remedial training or modification of procedures would be carried out. Deliberate misuse of information would require review and potential criminal code issued charges and appropriate action according to the RCMP Act. Inclusion of the revised PIB and publication of the Executive Summary would be in 2014-2015.
The lead government institution responsible for the NDDB is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The head of the institution is the RCMP Commissioner and the RCMP delegate responsible for section 10 of the Privacy Act of this program’s activity is the Officer in Charge Access to Information Privacy (ATIP). The Director of Science and Strategic Partnerships on behalf of the Assistant Commissioner of the FS&IS is responsible for the NDDB mandate and program activity and has been assigned the responsibility of the Privacy Impact Assessment. The legal authority for the program is The DNA Identification Act, S.C. 1998 chap. 37 as amended and the DNA Identification Regulations (SOR/2000-300) Oct 4, 2008. The Department of Justice is the legal authority for this program as delegated to the RCMP according to the DNA Identification Act.