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Lok Sabha passes bill which allows collection of prisoners’ biometric details

Opposition slams the bill, says it undermines right to privacy

[File] Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Lok Sabha | PTI [File] Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Lok Sabha | PTI

The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill 2022 that allows investigating officers to collect the biometric details of prisoners. 

The opposition parties raised objections to the bill, calling it an infringement on human rights. The bill seeks to replace the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 which allows the collection of certain identifiable information about specified persons such as convicts for investigation of crimes. 

“The bill expands the ambit of such details, and persons covered under the law. It authorises the National Crime Records Bureau to collect, store, and preserve these details for 75 years from the date of collection,” the PRS legislative, a think tank said.

Home Minister Amit Shah said that the legislation was needed to increase conviction rate and help the investigation agencies as courts demand scientific proof. 

Opposition members raised concerns that the bill undermines the right to privacy and that the database (under the bill) could be potentially misused. Shah, however, said the bill makes provisions to ensure human rights are not violated. 

He announced that the government was preparing a new jail manual which will be circulated to the states. Shah said the bill should be analysed along with the prison manual as it would take care of prisoners’ rights.

During the discussion, Congress MP Manish Tewari said the 1920 law was brought in by the British to intimidate freedom fighters as they had rallied behind Mahatma Gandhi. “When a law is being changed, it was expected that 100 years later it will be humane and liberal. But this new bill fails on that account.”

Tewari read out the provisions of the bill which calls for measurements of criminals including their finger-impressions, palm-print impressions, foot-print impressions, photographs, iris and retina scan, physical, biological samples and their analysis, behavioural attributes, including signatures and handwriting.

The Congress MP wanted to know if the behavioural attributes will include brain mapping and narco tests. “The amplitude of the definition is so wide that it completely conflicts with the constitutional guarantee under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India,” Tewari said, adding that it will actually lay the foundations of mass surveillance state.

DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran termed the bill ‘anti-people’. “It is anti-people and anti-federal. I would have appreciated if the home minister had brought the law en masse to ensure that all the antique laws which were brought by the Britishers are given a new effect, but they seem to be cherry-picking whichever laws they want to change and, that too, if they feel that they can terrorise the country.”

Maran said both the PM and the HM have forgotten that they came from Gujarat and were now ignoring the rights of the states. “The political cycles keep changing. What happened to the Congress will now also happen to you, but do not assume that you will always be in power, taking all the powers from the states. We feel that you are getting into the rights of the States.”

“The right to privacy is a fundamental right. I would like to ask one thing. Are we trying to create a surveillance state?,” the DMK MP asked.

Maran argued that this bill was the first step towards establishing the infrastructure needed to create a police state. “The bill also seeks to hold the data for 75 years. Once profiled, it will become a legal maze for an ordinary citizen to get his data removed from this database.”

TMC MP Mahua Moitra said the bill will make the dreaded thanedar (police officer) even more dangerous. 

“You are allowing the National Crime Records Bureau to share and disseminate personal data with any law enforcement agency. This violates the best practices of data protection,” she said.

Moitra argued that if the bill becomes a law, then it the country will enter a full-fledged police state. “Any opposition will be brutalised into silence.”

YSR Congress MP P.V. Midhun Reddy supported the bill as he highlighted the need to control crime measurement. “Almost 70 countries around the world have central DNA database. It is not something new, or something which only India has. We should go ahead with the central DNA database. We should collect samples. This will deter the serial offenders from committing more heinous crimes, and will also help in solving the cases faster,” he said.

Reddy asked the home minister to assure the House that the bill should not be used as a means for political witch-hunt. “DNA profiling also, which is a sensitive thing, should be used purely for serious crimes and for counter terrorism purposes only.”

BJD MP Bhatruhari Mahtab raised concerns over some provisions of the bill including the language used, which he said was ambiguous and open to interpretation. 

NCP MP Supriya Sule, too, expressed concerns over the provisions of the bill while BSP MP Danish Ali asked the government to send the bill to the standing committee for wider consultations. 

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