Why we need new identification systems

Identification is a basic human right

Anwer Sumra February 09, 2015

The horrific road crash involving a bus and trailer travelling from Shikarpur to Karachi on January 11 has brought to the fore several problems related to the identification of burnt bodies. The charred remains of the crash victims could not be handed over to the heirs until proper identification.

Identification is a basic human right and unfortunately, when casualties occur amidst high temperature flames like this one, or air crashes, or when there are explosions, the authorities always turn towards DNA identification.

DNA analysis is a complex procedure where samples need to be very accurate. When it comes to charred bodies, very few DNA samples can be extracted, which is why it takes a long time to identify the bodies. This causes the families of the deceased ones to suffer greatly. There is no reason to complain about the capability and capacity of DNA facilities across Pakistan, as we are new to this technology. But the shortage of proper experts in this domain is troubling.

So what is the solution? According to Interpol’s protocol, three internationally acclaimed scientific procedures used for identification are fingerprint matching, odontology (using teeth remains) and DNA. All these procedures are considered standalone procedures, i.e., if identification is proved by one of these procedures, there is no need to try the others.

Fingerprints are mostly used in identifying the living, but this method becomes unreliable if the body of the living person has been slightly burnt, or if it has been soaked for a long period of time.

Forensic odontology or forensic dentistry, as a science, is rarely used in our region and we are lucky to have one person in Punjab who is an expert in this field. With the help of this method, we can establish dental records of the population. A dental database can work alongside the NADRA database, making the identification process less costly and quick. Teeth, being the hardest structure in the body, can withstand temperatures of up to 800 degrees centigrade.

This form of identification is not only cheaper, but also more reliable. There is a dire need to upgrade the identification systems in the country as these will help with disaster management, and also help us meet our security imperatives. Yes, we have the capacity to develop such science to decrease the burden on DNA identification, as well as reducing the burden on the exchequer. This will, in turn, make our criminal justice system more efficient.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2015.

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John B | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend DNA identification is a never changing method like finger prints, simpler than finger prints, cost effective system, and is an automated system to establish unlike Dental records which is practically impossible to establish as a primary source. However, there are two issues here: post mortum identification (or general identification) and Criminal identification for criminal prosecution Establishing a pre-existing data base (DNA, Finger prints, and dental records) for the purpose of future criminal identifaction is an ethical question (visitors finger printing in the US, for example) and in places where finger prints are collected for domestic identification purposes, the data base is kept separate from criminal data base search. Well, that line of segregation is getting fuzzy post 9/11 in the US. The dental record system is an useful tool in a society that goes to the dentists every six months or so where such records are kept methodically in dentists office. Establishing such record, being part of diagnosis, does not incur extra cost to the govt exchequer but it is a patients' private record and govt must need authorization from the patient, patient relatives / court. I doubt this system will be implemented as substitute for universal system in PAK, even for post mortum identification only. A centralized system with multiple stand alone identification methods accessed separately for social identification and criminal identification is a good system. Finger print is a good start since governments invariably collect these at various points such as electoral card, driver's license etc. Quick, and easy go establish and store and they are machine searchable from central location. DNA data base can be established starting from serving convicted criminals as a separate criminal data base and can be extended from collecting samples from rape victims. The data base can also be established from hospital visits but that is an ethical issue. Dental record always serves as a collateral primary data, if available, in criminal and post-mortum identification, if needed. In the end though there is always a potential for abuse of the system from law enforcement agencies and government. So, proper check is essential.
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