The passing of The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill on Wednesday has triggered concern among legal experts in Bengaluru. The proposed law replaces the Identification of Prisoners Act of 1920.
The new bill allows the police to take iris and retina scans, biological samples, and behavioural attributes like signatures and handwriting, and store them in their database for a long time.
Shweta Mohandas, policy officer with the Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru, says the law now allows collection of data for all criminal offences, and that means criminal profiling even for small infractions.
“Say, for example, if people are fined for not following social distancing and lockdown rules, their information could get into the database,” she says.
The law is coming into force even before the passing of the Data Protection Bill, and that is a major concern, she says.
“The information will be stored for 75 years, and it is impossible to guess what emerging surveillance technologies could do with such sensitive data. Looking at the near future, this data could be used to train facial, gait or emotion recognition in technology,” she says.
The new bill does not take into consideration settled principles governing data protection and information privacy, says Anushka Jain, associate counsel (surveillance and transparency), Internet Freedom Foundation, New Delhi. “If information about someone is collected when they are 25, it could remain in the system even after the person dies,” she says.
The objective of the law seems to be data collection rather than collection of evidence, she cautions. “This violates international privacy standards, which say that personal data should be used only to fulfil the purpose for which it was collected,” she says.
The law can lead to violations of the right to privacy, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to free speech, fears Anushka.
“It is not necessary to collect such wide categories of data. If someone is acquitted in a case, why should their information be stored for 75 years? Holding such information for so long doesn’t justify the principle of proportionality,” she says.
Police could use the information for surveillance, which is alarming. “As we know, mass surveillance is illegal and shouldn’t happen in a democratic country,” she observes.
Baig, criminal lawyer, says the government is trying to keep people distracted. “Because the public is putting a lot of pressure to remove other draconian laws, the government is bringing in this new law,” he says.
The law could turn into a tool for the harassment of innocent individuals. If there is a need to store such personal data, then it can be done by modifying existing laws, he adds.
“The Criminal Procedure Code can be amended, keeping in mind changing times. A new law just for monitoring will generate hatred. Anyone who is against the present government can get targeted,” says Baig.
The possibilities of misusing bio information are high, experts fear.
“India does not have a cybersecurity policy and databases are breached regularly. Such personal data could also be breached and evidence could be planted,” a cyber security expert told Metrolife. There is absolutely no mention in the new law of citizen safeguards. “If one’s information is misused, the only recourse will be a court,” she says.
Praveen Sood, DG and IGP, says the new bill is essential. “We need to keep records of criminals and nowadays records do not just mean fingerprints. For example, in a sexual offence, there are repeat offenders whose DNA records using blood samples, for instance, need to be maintained,” he says.
This will go a long way in keeping a watch on habitual offenders. “There are enough safeguards within the Bill to make sure it will not be misused,” he says.