The new law, which replaces a similar colonial era law, authorises police officers to take measurements of people convicted, arrested or facing trial in criminal cases, including their iris and retina scans and even biological samples with exceptions, and store these for up to 75 years.
The legislation has come under sharp criticism from opposition members who allege that it violates an individual’s privacy and liberties. There are fears that the law will give unbridled powers to the state and executive machinery, and may even lead to narco analysis and brain mapping of citizens.
Here’s all you need to know about the new law, how it is different from its predecessor and the established norms around the world …
What is the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022
The new law provides legal sanction to the police to take physical and biological samples of convicts as well as those accused of crimes.
Basically, it will allow the police to collect “finger-impressions, palm-print impressions, footprint impressions, photographs, iris and retina scan, physical, biological samples and their analysis, behavioural attributes including signatures, handwriting or any other examination” referred to in section 53 or section 53A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
As per the provisions of the law, any person convicted, arrested or detained under any preventive detention law will be required to provide “measurements” to a police officer or a prison official.
It also authorises the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to store, preserve, share with any law enforcement agency and destroy the record of measurements at national level. The records can be stored up to a period of 75 years.
The law’s objective is to ensure the unique identification of those involved with crime and to help investigating agencies solve cases.
How different is it from the colonial-era law
The new law will replace a colonial-era legislation, called The Identification of Prisoners Act which dates back to 1920.
The new law is described as a modern, broader but an “intrusive” version of its predecessor.
While the old law allowed authorities to take only fingerprint and footprint impressions of a limited category of convicted persons, the new law allows police to collect a range of biological and identity samples not only from convicts but also those arrested or even detained under any preventive detention law.
By design, the old law was limited to serious offenders only but its new counterpart will include all categories of criminals and accused.
In his article on TOI+, Aditya Prasanna Bhattacharya says the law makes no effort to distinguish between local hoodlums detained when a dignitary is visiting, those arrested for sexual assault, or those convicted of terror offences.
Storing of data
The storing, preservation of measurements, sharing, dissemination, destruction and disposal of records will be done by the NCRB, which comes under the ministry of home affairs.
The NCRB, which collects all crime data, will collect the record of measurements from the state government or union territory administration or any other law enforcement agencies, store, preserve and destroy the record of measurements at national level and process such records with relevant crime and criminal records. The NCRB will also be responsible for sharing and disseminating such records with any law enforcement agency.
The record of measurements shall be retained in digital or electronic form for 75 years from the date of collection of such measurement.
Opposition’s offense, government’s defence
During the debate on the proposed law in Parliament, several opposition members had expressed strong reservations about the provisions of the Act.
The opposition feared that the words “biological samples and their analysis” mentioned in the Act could lead to narco analysis and brain mapping. It implied use of force to take measurements violates the rights of prisoners violates a catena of Supreme Court judgements.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had said the bill, which is now an Act, sought to empower the police and court to take measurements of those who are undertrial and suspected to be involved in a case, on the presumption that they may, in future, commit any illegal act.
Critics also argue that the law fails to put in place adequate restrictions on storage, sharing, or usage of the collected data of accused.
The government, on its part, has tried to assuage the concerns of opposition.
Home minister Amit Shah had assured that the rules for the implementation of the proposed law would have safeguards against any misuse of the identification database and biological samples, by fixing accountability of those entrusted with the safety of data.
Responding to charges that law is “intrusive and violative of the Supreme Court verdict on privacy”, Shah had said only designated people will have the code to access the data.
He further said those detained for apprehension of breach of peace and in connection with political protests, would be kept out of the law’s purview. He also clarified that its provisions do not allow narco-analysis, brain-mapping or polygraph as part of the measurements.