The Upper House of the Parliament passed the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, on Wednesday. Once the President assents, the bill will become an Act.
How Did The New Bill Come About?
The bill is intended to replace the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920. In its 87th report, the Law Commission of India recommended significant changes to the existing law in the 1980s. This Act has not been amended since 1920, and hence, the newly passed legislation will hold great significance in modern-day criminal proceedings.
New Provisions Of The Bill
Under the new bill, police and prison authorities will have the ability to collect, store, and analyse physical and biological samples including retina and iris scans, of convicts, and those arrested for various charges.
Additionally, preventive detention laws will also apply to those arrested. According to the new law, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) will be the agency responsible for storing the physical and biological samples, signatures and handwriting data.
The NCRB will be allowed to preserve the data for a minimum of 75 years under this bill. It has also been given the authority to share the information with other law enforcement authorities if necessary. On the direction of a magistrate, it also authorises law enforcement authorities to obtain measurements of prisoners and “any other individuals” for identification and investigation in criminal proceedings. Any state government or Union Territory administration may inform an appropriate agency to collect, maintain, and disseminate a person of interest’s measures in their separate jurisdictions. Individuals will also be penalised if they refuse to enable authorities to collect adequate measurements and data.
While assent will be obtained before obtaining biological specimens, the law allows for the collection of such samples from anyone imprisoned for “crimes against a woman or a child”, or if the crime carries a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.
The bill allows for the collecting of identity information about persons, in order to conduct criminal investigations. The law broadens the types of information that can be collected, as well as the types of people whose data can be gathered, by including convicts and arrested persons for any offence. It also empowers the magistrate to order the collecting of information from anybody in order to help investigations.
Biometric data such as fingerprints, palm prints, foot prints, iris and retina scan; biological samples such as blood, sperm, saliva, and DNA samples; and behavioural qualities such as signature, handwriting, voice samples, and so on, will all be gathered.
A person has the right to refuse to provide biological samples. However, this option will not be provided if the offence is connected to a crime against women or children, or if the offence has a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.
Why Is The Bill Significant?
The new bill’s most notable feature is that it includes provisions for capturing and recording acceptable body measurements, and utilising contemporary technology and methods. The old law only empowered the police to take fingerprint and foot imprints of a certain group of convicted individuals.
This also widens the “ambit of individuals” whose measures can be gathered, which will assist investigative authorities in obtaining legally admissible evidence and establishing the accused person’s crime. Moreover, it will reduce the threat presented by organised crime, cybercriminals, and terrorists skilled in identity theft and fraud. The bill will aid in the containment of major national and global risks presented by them.
During the discussion on the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, opposition leaders highlighted concerns about how the bill breaches a person’s right to privacy by allowing the police to collect measures against their permission. The opposition also claims that there is a high risk of the new law being abused to harass individuals, and have asked how an individual’s data would be safeguarded under the agency. Several opposing parties also called the law “unconstitutional” and “draconian.”
Concerned about certain portions of the bill, Congress leader P Chidambaram wondered if it would ensure that gathering physical and biological samples from prisoners and others accused of crimes would not compromise their liberty and privacy. He labelled it “unconstitutional, unlawful, and a blatant violation” of the Supreme Court’s Selvi and Puttaswamy decisions. According to the Indian Express, he asked that the bill be referred to a Parliamentary Committee, and that it only be passed after a thorough review.
“We gave ourselves a Constitution; we are bound to honour the Constitution. But I am sad to say, when a Bill like this is moved and passed in the House, we are wittingly or unwittingly breaking the Constitution every day,” Chidambaram remarked.
In the Selvi case, the presiding bench had stated, “In our considered judgement, submitting a person to the impugned tactics in an involuntary way breaches the prescribed grounds of privacy. In light of these findings, no individual must be exposed to any of the practices in question, whether in the context of criminal inquiry or otherwise.”
On the other hand, the Puttaswamy decision stated that “an invasion of life and personal liberty” must meet three requirements: legality, which presumes the “existence of a law; need, defined in terms of a legitimate state aim; and proportionality”, which ensures a rational nexus between the objects and the means used to achieve them.
Chidambaram stated that the proposed bill must pass the constitutional test as defined by the Supreme Court.
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In Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah stated that the law is merely intended to increase the capabilities of the police and forensic departments. “We have no intention of misusing the provisions of the Bill. It is meant to keep our police ahead of criminals. Next-generation crimes cannot be tackled with old techniques; we have to try to take the criminal justice system to the next era,” he stated while presenting the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
Shah went on to say that the bill’s provisions are aimed to prevent the use of third-degree tactics (custodial torture), and to provide prosecuting authorities with the benefits of science and technology. “Under Section 3, the Government of India has the right to make rules. We will define it and ensure that no person involved in a political agitation has to give (physical and biometric) measurements only for political agitation. But, if a political leader is arrested in a criminal case, then he will have to be at par with a citizen,” he said.
The home minister lamented that neither of the members stood to declare that the country’s conviction rates are too low, and that the infrastructure for criminal investigation needs to be enhanced.