New Criminal Identification Bill Introduced In Lok Sabha Amid Opposition

Opposition members and experts voiced concerns that the new Bill would give legal backing to the creation of a surveillance state.

The Centre on Monday introduced the new Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022 that would allow police authorities to capture biometrics like fingerprints and iris scans along with other identifiable traits like impressions of the palm, footprints; physical and biological samples, and other behavioural attributes including signatures, handwriting, etc.

The bill proposes to replace the century-old Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 which allowed the collection and preservation of fingerprints of undertrials and convicts.

Union Home Minister for State Ajay Mishra Teni introduced the bill following a vote with 120 members supporting it, and 58 members opposing the same. "The Bill will not only help our investigation agencies but will also increase prosecution (rate). There is also a chance of an increase in the conviction rate in courts because of it," Teni said while introducing the bill.

Meanwhile, stiff opposition on and off the Parliament suggests that the new bill gives legal backing to the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) ambitious facial recognition system. Though video surveillance is common in India today, it has no legal backing. The new bill could change that.

What does the new bill propose?

The new bill proposes taking the measurements of convicts and other persons for the purposes of identification and investigation in criminal matters and to preserve records and other connected matters. The records will be preserved for 75 years and will be erased in the event the person in question has proved to be innocent or acquitted by the court of law, provided he has not been convicted of any other offence.

"Measurements" of persons who have been detained under any preventive detention law, arrested, or convicted for a crime will be taken and preserved for identification purposes.

The bill also suggests that any person who is not accused or convicted of committing crimes against women or children or any offence punishable with imprisonment for a period not less than seven years may not be obliged to give his biological samples.

Resistance to or refusal to allow the taking of measurements under this Act will be considered as obstructing public servants in discharge of public functions which is a crime under section 186 of the Indian Penal Code and carries a jail term of up to three months or a fine or both.

Why is the new bill a concern?

Members of the opposition suggest that the new bill is "draconian" and "illegal". The bill is beyond the legislative competence of this house Congress MP Manish Tewari said. It is illegal and violates provisions of the constitution he added. "No person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself," Tewari said opposing the bill in Parliament.

Experts have raised concerns that this bill legitimizes the idea of a surveillance society. Video surveillance is common in India now, however, it does not have legal backing. This new bill will give it the backing it is missing now.

In July 2019, the NCRB issued a tender to set up a national Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) which would link facial recognition tech to a series of interlinked databases.

Cyber security expert Srinivas Kodalli told BOOM that the new bill will help give legal cover to all the surveillance infrastructures the MHA has been building since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. "We need to be discussing the outcomes of this bill with surveillance," he added. "Even as we introduce it now, many countries have already voiced concerns about and banned facial recognition," Kodalli said.

Criminal defence lawyer Sarim Naved said that criminal investigation in this country does require it to be more scientific and organised. "These new techniques of ascertaining identity through different biological samples can and must be used. However, blind faith in any technique has to be avoided as few techniques or tests are 100% reliable. As such, while this law does tread the right path how conclusive these tests can be should remain a matter of concern," Naved told BOOM.

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