April 7, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the pros and cons of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill passed by the Lok Sabha recently. We also look at the discovery of giant stone jars in Assam, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill – Safety versus Privacy?
Being tough on crime is a popular refrain from politicians and political parties. It’s understandable why that’s a staple considering national security is vital for a country’s development. But what does ‘tough’ signify? To what lengths are governments willing to go to keep citizens safe?
That’s the central theme of the debate around the recent Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill. It allows for biometric data of criminals and the accused to be collected and stored for reference. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. The government said it was a necessary upgrade to tackle new-age crimes. The opposition and others claim it goes too far.
Ever since the Aadhaar project came into existence, there’s been discussion on whether it’s a new cutting-edge system or the world’s largest mass surveillance project. The core of the debate is privacy.
As technology progressed, governments needed to keep pace. However, with time, concerns arose about the Right to Privacy. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that everyone has the right to be protected by the law against arbitrary interference with their privacy. The Supreme Court has interpreted the Right to Life (Article 21) to include personal autonomy.
Over the years, Aadhaar became commonplace due to several rules that required it for everything from welfare schemes, and train bookings to income tax filings. When it comes to privacy, the onus is on the government. They have wide-ranging powers at their disposal but have to keep in mind that India isn’t an autocratic state. There are checks and balances.
When the BJP came to power, it embarked on a project to integrate iris scans and facial recognition into the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS). Under the Aadhaar Law, data can’t be given to any criminal investigative agency. Under this circumstance, the government saw the need for a new law that would allow authorities to collect and store biometric data from criminals.
What the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill aims to do is relatively similar to the Aadhaar system, but for criminals. The hope is that it will replace the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920. Introduced on September 9, 1920, it outlines the legislative points for police and prisoners. Anyone convicted of a crime was legally required to submit their photograph and physical measurements to the police. Refusal to comply was deemed illegal under Section 186 of the Indian Penal Code.
The new bill expands and updates the 1920 law in three ways. First is the type of data collected. It will allow for the collection of retina and iris scans in addition to the existing procedure of collecting fingerprints. Second is the persons from whom the data is collected. Under the new law, it can be collected from anyone arrested or convicted for any offence. The third is who has the authority to take this data. The 1920 law allowed only a Magistrate. Under the new one, the head warden or a police officer can.
Other countries have forged ahead in this regard. In 2017, INTERPOL launched ‘Project First’ to use biometric data like fingerprints and facial recognition to assist law enforcement against foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). In 2013, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) began to upgrade to a new system to add face and iris image search capabilities.
The threats of domestic and cross-border terrorism are real and well documented. New-age technologies available to terrorists have necessitated governments to step up their game. However, do these new rules mean citizens have to forego their privacy? Isn’t there already enough data collected by the government?
VIEW: Necessary law for the modern age
For investigative agencies, this bill will be a boon. The development of technology and modern techniques now allows for a more comprehensive data collection process. As Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni argued, investigative agencies will be better equipped to identify criminals or individuals with a criminal past. Additionally, this will come in handy during sentencing and prosecutions.
The Identification of Persons Act of 1920 is outdated. There have been calls for a replacement for decades. In the 1980s, the 87th report from the Law Commission of India and the Supreme Court had suggested the same. In 2018, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Director Ish Kumar said the police needed limited Aadhaar data to identify first-time offenders. He said most of the 50 lakh cases registered every year were by first-time offenders.
It will help keep India on par with advanced countries. The Central Finger Print Bureau (CFPB) currently uses the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to match fingerprints. The technology is outdated. So much so that the FBI has long abandoned it. Also, the CFPB has only 10 lakh fingerprints in its database. In comparison, the FBI has more than 4 crores.
India can learn lessons from the past, which have turned out to be bloody. One example is the case of an Indian Mujahideen named Ahmed Zarar Siddibappa. Upon arrest by the Kolkata police in 2009, he was identified as Bulla Malik based on a fake ID. He was then released and went on to be the mastermind of blasts in Mumbai and Pune. He was later apprehended in Nepal in 2013.
COUNTERVIEW: Privacy compromised
The bill has come under heavy criticism from the opposition. Congress leader Manish Tewari said it violated Article 20(3) of the constitution. It states that no person accused of any offence can be compelled to be a witness against himself. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, cited the component that allows data collection on those even suspected of a crime. He said it infringed on Article 21, the right to life and liberty.
The law places the privacy of an individual at the mercy of the State. While the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920 had a limited ambit to be sure, the new law gives way more power to the State with even fewer safeguards. There’s also the concern about whose data can be collected. It includes people who have been detained under preventive detention laws. They aren’t criminals. However, the abuse of preventive detention laws in India is well documented. Given the government’s tendency to target dissenters and protestors, this bill is especially concerning.
The bill allows for the retention of personal data for 75 years. There’s also no explanation concerning this. Why is this necessary? How will it help in the prevention or prosecution of a crime? The bill also allows the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to share the data with any law enforcement agency. It goes against the principle of data protection called ‘purpose limitation’. It means the data collected should be used only for that limited purpose. The bill is vague on this. Why would local crime-fighting need personal data?
Then there are privacy safeguards. India’s data protection legislation is next to nothing. The government’s attitude seems to be introducing legislation that borders on casual overreach. Precedence doesn’t inspire confidence in this. There have been discussions about Aadhaar’s weak safeguards and controversies surrounding the Arogya Setu tracing app. The Internet Freedom Foundation shared their concerns as well. The bill could make the cure worse than the symptom.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill is necessary to tackle crime.
b) The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill violates fundamental rights.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
India’s weakening democracy needs urgent electoral reforms
For the Left:
The self-inflicted powerlessness of the Indian media
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Giant stone jars (Assam) – A team of archaeologists have found the largest stone jar site in the world in the Dima Hasao district of Assam. An area of about 300 sq km held a total of 797 stone jars in different states of preservation. A survey of one particular site, Nuchubunglo, recorded 546 sandstone jars. Out of them, only 111 were in proper conditions. Now, the jars are getting more damaged due to road cutting projects.
Why it matters: These stone jars are megalithic structures, i.e. large stones used to create prehistoric monuments, which are found in Indonesia and Laos as well. They date between the second millennium BCE and 13th century CE. Previously, only 7 sites were known to exist in Assam. What’s even more interesting is that scientists don’t really know the origin or sources of the sandstone used for these jars, or even their purpose.
Renaming districts (Uttar Pradesh) – According to sources, the second tenure of the Yogi government is going to change more names of districts and cities. The government is allegedly discussing the possible changes for the 12 districts that weren’t changed last time around. As of now, Aligarh, Farrukhabad, Badaun, Sultanpur, Firozabad and Shahjahanpur are being considered for this. The rest will be looked into later.
Why it matters: While these name changes bring up some bureaucratic confusion, most of the attention gets put on the rising trend of Hindu nationalism in the country. This time, sources say that the proposal for these name changes came from legislators of those districts. The government says that these changes fix past wrongs committed by colonisers. But Indian Muslims believe that this simply erases their heritage.
Low banking coverage (Odisha) – A report from the State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) stated that around 63% of gram panchayats in the state don’t have access to a brick and mortar bank branch. As of now, 49 gram panchayats are yet to have any sort of bank coverage. This means that 357 villages in Odisha are yet to receive even the basic financial services.
Why it matters: This comes as a direct contradiction to the Centre’s statement that all the villages of Odisha have been covered under the financial inclusion programme. According to the Union Minister of State for Finance Bhagwat Karad, 44,977 villages out of a total of 44,982 have working bank outlets. The report found that, out of 6,798 gram panchayats, only 2,502 have bank branches.
Restoring temples (Goa) – On Wednesday, CM Pramod Sawant said that the state government has started the process of restoring temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese in Goa. In his recent budget speech, the CM had allocated ₹20 crore for the restoration. It will be done by the state’s Archives and Archaeology department, the portfolio of which is held by the CM himself.
Why it matters: During the Goa Inquisition, the objective of the Portuguese Empire was to enforce Catholic Orthodoxy in its colonies. Established in 1560 in Goa, the inquisition mostly countered Hindus, New Christians being accused of practising their old religions and Old Christians involved in the Protestant Revolution of the 16th Century. While the actual number of destroyed temples isn’t available, royal letters indicate that they were burnt.
H&M’s historic agreement (Tamil Nadu) – The fast-fashion company H&M has signed a legally-binding agreement with its Tamil Nadu-based supplier Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited. The agreement ensures the end of gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace. Signed with the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), the agreement is the first of its kind in all of Asia.
Why it matters: The agreement has also been signed by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), and the Global Labour Justice – International Labour Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF). From now on, workshop-floors will have monitors, elected and trained TTCU personnel to report sexual harrasment anonymously. It also includes the setting up of “Safe Circles” where people will be trained and will follow-up on complaints of harassment.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
26% – A report by Forbes showed that the combined wealth of Indian billionaires rose 26% reaching $750 billion. The total number of billionaires also rose in the country. Right now, there are 166 billionaires as of the fiscal year 2021-22.