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New Bill in Parliament allows biometric data collection on arrest or detention, Oppn up in arms

Under Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, magistrate can direct those arrested or detained to give their biometrics. Those who refuse can be charged with obstructing a public servant.

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New Delhi: The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022, which seeks to authorise taking biometric data — along with “physical and biological samples” — of convicts, and those arrested or detained, for the purposes of identification and probe, was introduced in the Lok Sabha Monday.

The Bill, introduced by Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni, was criticised by the Opposition parties, who called it “unconstitutional”.

The government, however, said the proposed legislation was just an “improved version” of the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, to ensure better investigation and conviction rates.

The Bill empowers law enforcement agencies to collect biometrics like impressions of fingers, palm, and footprint, scans of iris and retina, signatures, handwriting, and physical, biological samples of those arrested or detained.

The scope of the earlier Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 was limited to the collection of finger and footprints of a limited category of convicts and undertrials after obtaining an order from a magistrate.

Under the new Bill, a magistrate can direct those convicted, arrested or detained to give their biometrics. Those who refuse can be charged under Section 186 of the Indian Penal Code on charges of obstructing a public servant from discharging their duty.

The proposed legislation claims that these biometric data collected from undertrials and convicts by “advanced countries” have helped investigations, and given “credible and reliable results”.

“The Act does not provide for taking these body measurements as many of the techniques and technologies had not been developed at that point in time. It is, therefore, essential to make provisions for modern techniques to capture and record appropriate body measurements in place of existing limited measurements,” the Bill reads.

The Bill was allowed to be tabled in Lok Sabha after 120 MPs voted in favour and 58 voted against it.

Also read: Data privacy too complex to be decided by mere voice vote. Debate Data Protection Bill first

Opposition cries foul

Calling the Bill a “violation of fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India”, Congress leader Manish Tewari said, “The Bill is beyond the legislative competence of the House and against the fundamental rights of our citizens. No person accused of any offence shall be propelled to be a witness against himself. Moreover, the implied use of force to take measurements violates the rights of prisoners.”

Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said the legislation went against the basic principles of law. “It just does not violate human rights but is against the basic principles of the Constitution. No one is guilty unless proved in the court of law,” he said.

Speaking in the House, Teni said it was necessary to bring changes to the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, as it was 102 years old and crime trends had changed.

“The earlier Act provided for the collection of only fingerprints and footprints. The world has undergone technological and scientific changes; crime trends have changed. This is why there is a need for the amendment. This will not only help our investigation agencies but also increase prosecution,” he said.

Speaking to ThePrint, a government official said, “this is not a new Bill. Only some additions have been done to redefine what measurements are, to make them stronger with today’s technology and time. This will only ensure better investigation by police, based on scientific, technical parameters.”

The current Act provides access to a limited category of persons whose body measurements — finger and footprints — can be taken. The new Bill, however, talks of expanding the “ambit of persons” whose measurements can be taken.

“Expanding the ambit of persons whose measurements can be taken, will help investigating agencies to gather sufficient legally admissible evidence and establish the crime of the accused person,” the Bill says.

“Therefore, there is a need for expanding the scope and ambit of the ‘measurements’, which can be taken under the provisions of law as it will help in the unique identification of a person involved in any crime and will assist the investigating agencies in solving the criminal case.”

Also read: NCRB data should help reduce crime rate in India by 20% in next 5 years, says Amit Shah

NCRB to maintain records

The new Bill seeks to empower the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to collect, store and preserve the record of measurements, for sharing, dissemination, destruction, and disposal of records.

According to the Bill, the NCRB will collect the biometric data from state governments, Union Territory administration, and law enforcement agencies and preserve the record for 75 years. It will also hold the power to destroy these records. The NCRB will process these records and share the details with any law enforcement agencies.

The Bill also states that if a person complies with the demands and is released, discharged or acquitted by the court all the records will be destroyed. This, however, can be done only if a court or a magistrate agrees with it.

(Edited by: Manoj Ramachandran)

Also read: First-timers accused in 91% of Delhi crimes in 2021, shows police data. Cops blame joblessness


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