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‘Involuntary narco tests an intrusion into a person’s mental privacy: Supreme Court’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    13th Oct, 2020

Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.


Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.

The judgment is significant amid reports that the Uttar Pradesh government wants to subject the Hathras rape and murder victim’s family members to these tests.


What are polygraph and narcoanalysis tests?

  • A polygraph testis based on the assumption that physiological responses that are triggered when a person is lying are different from what they would be otherwise.
    • Instruments like cardio-cuffs or sensitive electrodes are attached to the person, and variables such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, change in sweat gland activity, blood flow, etc., are measured as questions are put to them.
    • A numerical value is assigned to each response to conclude whether the person is telling the truth, is deceiving, or is uncertain.
  • Narcoanalysis, by contrast, involves the injection of a drug, sodium pentothal, which induces a hypnotic or sedated state in which the subject’s imagination is neutralised, and they are expected to divulge information that is true.
    • The drug, referred to as “truth serum” in this context, was used in larger doses as anaesthesia during surgery, and is said to have been used during World War II for intelligence operations.

Are they scientifically successful?

  • However, neither method has been proven scientifically to have a 100% success rate, and remain contentious in the medical field as well.

Supreme Court’s views

  • In 2010, a 3- judge bench headed by former CJI KG Balakrishnan ruled,
    • The consequences of such tests on “individuals from weaker sections of society who are unaware of their fundamental rights and unable to afford legal advice” can be devastating.
    • It may involve future abuse, harassment and surveillance, even leakage of the video material to the Press for a “trial by media.”
    • Such tests are an affront to human dignity and liberty, and have long-lasting effects.
    • An individual’s decision to make a statement is the product of a private choice and there should be no scope for any other individual to interfere with such autonomy.
  • Similarly in September 2017, the Supreme Court passed another ruling which held that “No accused can demand a Narco test to prove their innocence."

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