India’s criminal identification bill raises fears of being tailed

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India’s parliament has approved a controversial bill that grants sweeping powers to police to collect biometric and physical measurements from people who have been convicted, arrested or detained.

The Criminal Proceedings Identification (CPI) Bill aims to update a UK-era law to allow police to collect samples of a person’s biometric details, such as fingerprints and iris scans, whether she was arrested, detained or remanded in custody on charges that would attract a prison sentence of seven years or more.

Opposition political parties called the bill draconian and raised concerns about data breaches and breach of privacy.

Lawmakers also fear negative human rights implications and have called for the bill to be referred to a parliamentary standing committee or select committee for detailed deliberations.


“Dark and Dangerous”

“If this bill becomes law, India will enter a dark and dangerous phase, a full-fledged police state – and any boring opposition will simply be silenced with laws like this,” said Mahua Moitra, Congressman for Trinamool.

“With the advancement of technology, the state has ever greater powers of surveillance over citizens.”

Data protection law in India faces many problems and resentments due to the lack of a proper legislative framework.

The personal data protection bill has been stuck in parliament since 2018 and is waiting to be presented.

Many believe the proposed law amounts to giving the government a dangerous spy weapon to wield against dissidents.

“Biometric data is immutable and an individual cannot change it,” said Shankar Narayan, a lawyer working at the intersection of technology and civil rights.

“Once it is released or disclosed within government or beyond, the individual may suffer long-term consequences not only from the government, but from other actors who obtained this sensitive and valuable data. .”

The bill also empowers the National Crime Records Bureau 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. Legislation will be sent to the President for approval before it becomes law.

Defense of the government

“We introduced this law to ensure speedy justice and limit lengthy trials.

It also comes at an economic cost – to the government as well as sometimes to those who have been accused and may be from the poorest strata,” Interior Minister Amit Shah said, assuring MPs that political activists will not be not targeted.

“There is no provision in this bill to allow for a narco analysis, polygraph test and brain mapping of a prisoner,” he added.

Several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, collect biometric identifiers – facial features, fingerprints or retina scans – of those arrested or convicted.

But unlike the UK and the US, India lacks robust systems for investigating allegations of police misconduct.

Many fear that the new bill will be more intrusive, have fewer checks and balances than the repealed one.

“The law will surely lead us to a police state. Speaking out against human rights abuses will be a crime in ‘New India’,” said Kunwar Danish MP Ali.

The country’s Supreme Court has set up an independent commission to investigate allegations that the government is using Israeli spyware Pegasus to spy on political leaders – a charge it denies.

During protests against a controversial citizenship law in 2019, police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said they used facial recognition technology to identify protesters they branded as conspirators .

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