Bengaluru experts fear the new penal code is draconian

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The passage of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Law on Wednesday has raised concerns among legal experts in Bengaluru. The proposed law replaces the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920.

The new law allows police to take iris and retinal scans, biological samples and behavioral characteristics such as signatures and handwriting and store them in their database for long periods of time.

Shweta Mohandas, policy officer at the Center for Internet and Society, Bengaluru, says the law now allows data to be collected for all crimes, and that means criminal profiling even for minor offences.

“Let’s say, for example, if people are fined for not following social distancing and lockdown rules, their information could get into the database,” she says.

The law comes into force before the Privacy Act is passed, and that’s a big problem, she says.

“The information is stored for 75 years and it is impossible to guess what emerging surveillance technologies might do with such sensitive data. Looking to the near future, this data could be used to train face, gait or emotion recognition in technology,” she says.

The new draft law does not take into account established principles on privacy and information protection, says Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel (Oversight and Transparency), Internet Freedom Foundation, New Delhi. “If information is collected about someone who is 25 years old, it could stay in the system even after the person dies,” she says.

The goal of the law appears to be data collection rather than evidence gathering, she warns. “This violates international data protection standards, which state that personal data should only be used to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected,” she says.

The law may lead to violations of the right to privacy, the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of expression, Anushka fears.

“There is no need to collect such large categories of data. If someone is acquitted of a case, why would their information be kept for 75 years? Keeping such information for a long time does not justify the principle of proportionality,” she says.

The police could use the information for surveillance, which is alarming. “As we know, mass surveillance is illegal and shouldn’t happen in a democratic country,” she notes.

“Harassment Tool”

Baig, a criminal justice attorney, says the government is trying to distract people. “Because there is a lot of public pressure to repeal other draconian laws, the government is bringing in this new law,” he says.

The law could become a tool to harass innocent people. If there is a need to store such personal data, it can be done by changing existing laws, he adds.

“The Code of Criminal Procedure may be amended as times change. A new surveillance-only law will breed hatred. Anyone who opposes the current government can be targeted,” says Baig.

abuse potential

Experts fear that the potential for bioinformation to be misused is high.

“India has no cybersecurity policy and databases are regularly breached. Such personal data could also be breached and evidence placed,” a cyber security expert told Metrolife. There is absolutely no mention of this in the new Citizen Protection Act. “If someone’s information is misused, the only remedy is a court,” she says.

view of the police

Praveen Sood, DG and IGP, says the new bill is essential. “We need to keep records of criminals, and records these days are not just fingerprints. For example, in the case of a sex crime, there are repeat offenders whose DNA records must be kept, for example, using blood samples,” he says.

This will go a long way in keeping track of habitual offenders. “The law contains enough safeguards to ensure that it will not be abused,” he says.

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