The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill that grants sweeping powers to law enforcement to collect data on convicted and accused persons, after nearly five hours of fierce debate with the government claiming the bill was necessary to fight against criminals and the opposition expressing concern about possible abuses of rights.
The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill 2022 aims to update a UK-era law to allow police to collect samples of a person’s biometric details, such as fingerprints and scans of the iris, if arrested, detained or remanded in custody on charges carrying a prison term of seven years or more.
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The bill requires individuals to authorize the collection of fingerprints, palm prints, footprints, photographs, iris and retina scans, physical and biological samples and their analysis, behavioral attributes, including signatures and handwriting, among others. The bill also empowers the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to collect, store and retain these records for 75 years and share them with other agencies. Resistance or refusal to allow data collection is an offence.
“The sole purpose of this bill is to help consolidate the evidence, to send a strong message to society…over time, the methods of investigation must change,” the minister said. Interior of the Union, Amit Shah. He said the bill was introduced for the sole purpose of increasing conviction rates in the country. “I believe that justice delayed is justice denied. The rule of law can only be established when criminals are punished quickly.
The opposition has flagged several concerns – including data storage, privacy breaches, inadequate safeguards and the chilling effect on free speech – but the government has assured opposition parties that it would not allow any abuse of power by law enforcement. Shah said the data will be stored on a centralized “protected platform” maintained by the NCRB and not accessible to individuals, leaving out any scope for its misuse.
He also assured parliament that the rules of the law would be crafted after consulting the best experts around the world to ensure there were no privacy concerns.
“As a government entrusted by the public with the responsibility of keeping the country safe, we assure you that there will be no misuse of the data. The specific results of any request sent by a police station/agency police to match a criminal’s details will be answered via the central database. No individual will have access to it,” Shah said, adding that the technology itself did not allow the leaking of metrics collected in under the law.
“There will be no narco-analysis and collection of brain mapping data under this law,” he added.
Saying the law is needed to empower law enforcement with modern technology and forensic capabilities so they are two steps ahead of criminals, Shah said the government wants make the criminal justice system “powerful”.
“The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in an investigation based on forensic data, information, science and technology, not third degree torture,” said the Minister of the Interior in his nearly hour-long speech. .
He lashed out at opposition parties who worried about possible human rights abuses, saying some people were more worried about the rights of rapists and looters than victims. “Those who talk about the human rights of criminals should also think about the millions of victims who are targeted by these criminals,” he said.
“They will say now that it was set up to target minorities? There is no reference to any minority in the bill. Please do not see this bill in isolation, but take a holistic view of it. Technology will ensure that this law will not be misused,” Shah added.
If passed by the Rajya Sabha, the bill will replace a 1920 law that authorized the police to take action on those convicted or arrested for offenses punishable by at least one year’s rigorous imprisonment or those ordered to provide bonds for his good conduct under the law.
During debate, the opposition called for the bill to be referred to a standing parliamentary committee. They said that in the absence of a data protection law, sensitive personal data was vulnerable to breaches, and added that the bill appeared to violate the right to privacy.
Congressman Manish Tewari led the opposition charge, saying, “The bill would pave the way for India to become a surveillance state. The bill violates Articles 14, 19, 21 and 20(3) enshrined in the Constitution. The bill does not fall within the “jurisdiction of this House”, he said.
He cast doubt on the provision for those charged with crimes that carry sentences of less than seven years – the bill says such people can refuse to give ‘biological samples’ if the crime is not against a woman or a kid. To this, Shah responded by saying that he would ensure no misuse of the bill by introducing rules, and later amendment, if necessary.
Tewari also raised questions about the collection of biological samples for those detained under Article 107 of the CRPC, saying the article applied to various situations, such as fights between women for water. in rural India or parking spaces in a city like Delhi. “Should the law allow measurements (biological samples) in such cases as well?” Tewari asked.
“It will create a watchdog police and state,” said Congressman Gaurav Gogoi.
Trinamool Congress Leader Mahua Moitra said it was a rare bill that saw the opposition seek a divisive vote during the “introductory phase itself”. The bill was introduced by junior Home Minister Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ on March 28 after the division won 120 votes in favor and 58 against.
“We would sign a lot more power, so we need more checks. The bill is very broad, broad and includes people in pretrial detention,” she said.
Dayanidhi Maran of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam called it “terrorist law”.
“What is the rush? I ask the Minister of the Interior not to rush. Your government is notorious for targeting minorities. Any law you bring targets minorities first,” he said.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule said the bill violated constitutional rights and the rights of prisoners. “I’m not just talking about this government; any government can misuse this data… from the terrorist to the petty thief, you will use the same law for everyone? she says.
But the government defended the bill.
Giving the example of countries like the US, UK and Canada, Shah said, “All of these countries have even stricter laws and collect all the data through which they have high conviction rates.” He said the average conviction rate in the US, UK and Canada was 93%, 83% and 68%, respectively, while the conviction rate for heinous crimes such as murders in India was only 44%.
“There is a need for balance in the country. In addition to individual human rights, we must think of the rights of society as a whole. This bill was introduced for the safety of law-abiding citizens. Don’t try to paint it any other way. Having scientific data will strengthen the police and make the criminal justice system strong,” Shah said. Shah said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 talked about smart policing – and the bill was meant to achieve that goal. He also added that people who raised doubts about the bill were engaging in a policy of appeasement.