Parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial bill that grants sweeping powers to police to collect biometric and physical measurements from those convicted, arrested or detained, after Union Home Secretary Amit Shah said assured the Upper House that the data would not be misused.
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.
The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in a voice vote, two days after authorizing the Lok Sabha. The opposition called the bill “draconian” and raised concerns about data breaches and breach of privacy, but Shah assured the House that biometrics of political detainees would not be collected and that the bill would exclude brain mapping and polygraph testing.
“The Modi government wants the country’s police to stay one step ahead of criminals. We cannot deal with next-gen crime with old techniques, we will also have to adopt new-gen techniques,” Shah said.
The bill requires police 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 legislation will now go to the president for approval before it becomes law.
Shah said the government will establish rules to ensure that no one involved in political unrest has to give measurements (physical and biometric) just for political unrest. “But, if a political leader is arrested in a criminal case, then he should be on par with a citizen,” he said. The Home Secretary added that no action will be taken against any politician for violating restraining orders issued by the police. “There is no provision in this bill to allow for a narco analysis, polygraph test and brain mapping of a prisoner,” he said.
At the Lok Sabha, Shah gave similar assurances two days ago, saying the rules of the law would be worked out after consulting top experts around the world to ensure there were no privacy concerns. “It aims to build the capacity of police and forensic teams,” he said, adding that the measure was intended to ban the use of third-degree methods (torture in custody) and to lay off available to pursuit agencies the benefits of science and technology.
Experts have raised concerns about the bill, saying its powers are set far too broadly and could restrict constitutional rights. They also said that in the absence of a national data protection law, the data collected might not have adequate safeguards against privacy breaches.
The bill also empowers a magistrate to order anyone to give measure and empowers police or prison officers to take action on anyone who resists or refuses to give measure.
In the Rajya Sabha, the opposition flagged several concerns – including data storage, privacy breaches, inadequate safeguards and the chilling effect on free speech – but Shah lashed out at the parties of opposition and lamented that none of the members stood up to say that conviction rates in India are low and should be increased.
According to the minister, 66 out of 100 people charged with murder and 70 out of 100 indicted for dacoity have been acquitted. Shah said the bill was introduced to ensure police and investigators stay one step ahead of criminals. “I want to assure you that this will not violate anyone’s privacy,” Shah said, adding that the data collected will be completely secure.
He also said that previous governments had abused the laws before and only had sympathy for the criminals, not the victims. “There have been abuses. We fought and got through it,” he said.
“The bill seeks to protect the human rights of victims of crime, not just criminals…our law is ‘bachha’ (nothing) in terms of stringency compared to other nations. There are stricter laws in countries like South Africa, UK, Australia, Canada and USA, that’s why their conviction rate is better,” he said. declared.
The minister said the police will send the fingerprints to the NCRB, which will only share the person’s name with investigators if it matches the records in the database. Police will not have access to other people’s fingerprint data, he said. “We will notify after we have a comprehensive system in place… the effort is to hold the police accountable,” he added.
He said the government has created the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS), which has been adopted by 100% of police stations across the country.
A total of 17 members participated in the debate. Some opposition members called the bill “unconstitutional” and that it should be sent to the select committee.
Congress leader P Chidambaram called the bill “unconstitutional” and said it violated people’s freedom, privacy and dignity.
Aam Aadmi party MP Sanjay Singh said it was nothing short of an expression of raw majority. “The bill violates the principle of natural justice,” he said, and demanded that the bill be sent to a parliamentary select committee for consideration. Tiruchi Siva of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) backed his demand, saying the government wanted to arm itself with “draconian” laws that could be used even against political and social activists.
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of the Trinamool Congress said the government wanted to use its “raw majority” to push through the bill which “violates the principle of natural justice”, and demanded that it be referred to a select committee. Biju Janata Dal’s Sujeet Kumar said the bill, even if passed, would not withstand judicial scrutiny. Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi party opposed the bill and noted that it would be challenged in the Supreme Court even if passed in parliament.
But support for the government came from V Vijaysai Reddy of the YSR Congress Party, who said the bill would help improve the conviction rate, and attacked Congress for imposing bogus cases against political opponents.
An All India Navaneethakrishnan Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supported the bills, calling it a good intervention.
Digital rights organization Access Now quoted its policy adviser for Asia-Pacific, Namrata Maheshwari, as saying: “The bill expands the scope and authority of surveillance and, in conjunction with other impending laws designed to control people’s data, will have a negative impact on fundamental rights.