The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified the rules governing the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022.
What is the legislation about?
The Act seeks to repeal the 100-years-old Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920.
The “measurements” include fingerimpressions, palm-print, footprints, photographs, iris, and retina scans.
It includes physical and biological samples and their analysis.
It also includes behavioural attributessuch as signatures, handwriting or any other examination referred to in Section 53 or Section 53A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
The Act has acknowledged the new ‘‘measurement’’ techniqueswhich are giving credible and reliable results and are recognized the world over.
The Act empowers a Magistrate to direct any person to give measurements, which till now was reserved for convicts and those involved in heinous crimes.
It provides a legal sanction to law enforcement agencies for “taking measurements of convicts and other persons for the purposes of identification and investigation of criminal matters”.
It also enables the police up to the rank of a Head Constable to take measurements of any person who resists or refuses to give measurements.
The new legislation widens the scope which was earlier restricted to the capturing of finger impressions, foot-print impressions, and photographs of convicted prisoners and certain categories of arrested and non-convicted persons.
What is the use of identification details in criminal trials?
Measurements and photographs for identification have three main purposes:
To establish the identity of the culprit against the person being arrested
To identify suspected repetition of similar offenses by the same person
To establish a previous conviction
Repository of the data:
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under MHA will be the agency tasked with the responsibility for storing and preserving the data of arrested persons.
The state government can also store the data but shall have to make it available with the NCRB using a compatible application programming interface.
Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): The specifications of the equipment or devices to be used, specifications and the digital and physical format of the measurements, etc. will be made available in theStandard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the NCRB.
In case any measurement is collected in physical form or a non-standard digital format, it shall be converted into a standard digital format and thereafter uploaded to the database as per the SOP.
Only authorized users could upload the measurements to the central database in an encrypted format.
Destruction of Records in case a Suspect is acquitted:
The procedure for the destruction and disposal of records is yet to be specified by the NCRB.
The rules state that any request for destruction of records shall be made to the Nodal Officer who is to be nominated by the respective State Government.
The nodal officer will recommend the destruction after verifying that such a record of measurements is not linked with any other criminal cases.
Issues with this Act:
Record Keeping: Since in this case the biometric data can be stored for 75 years, it brings the debate over ‘the right to be forgotten’.
Beyond Legislative competence of the Centre: The Act was beyond the legislative competence of Parliament, as it violated the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy.
Lack of clarity: Several provisions are not defined in the Bill itself. For instance, the statement of objects says it provides for the collection of measurements for “convicts and other persons” but the expression “other persons” is not defined.
Against Article 20(3): The Act will be debated against Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which is a fundamental right that guarantees the right against self-incrimination. It states that no person accused of any offense shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.
The right against self-incrimination is at the heart of protection against police excess and torture. Record-keeping as mandated by the Bill violates this right.