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New Delhi: The Union Home Ministry, in a notification issued on Wednesday, August 3, said that the contentious Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022, will come into force on Thursday, August 4, according to a report by the Times of India.
The rules for the Act are yet to be framed.
The Act, passed in Parliament in April this year, expands the powers of the authorities to collect biometric and behavioural data of convicts, arrested persons and undertrials and provides for the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to store this data for up to 75 years and share it with other law enforcement agencies.
The data that agencies will be able to collect under various provisions of the Act includes fingerprint impressions, palm print impressions, footprint impressions, photographs, iris and retinal scans and other physical and biological samples; as well as behavioural attributes, including handwriting samples and signatures.
Further, the people whose data can be collected has been expanded from the existing legislation – the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 – to include not only arrested and convicted persons, but also individuals who have been ‘detained under preventive laws’.
Moreover, the sweeping new provisions have been added without including any safeguards with regards to the discretion of the authorities to collect the data, or any mechanism to address data privacy concerns.
The Act’s provisions drew heavy criticism both from Opposition members in Parliament, as well as commentators and civil society members, despite home minister Amit Shah’s assurances at the time that the law was meant to build capacity of police and forensic teams and increase conviction rates.
Among the objections were that the Act gives sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies to collect data from people accused in any crime, making no distinction with regards to the gravity of the offence they have been accused of. There is no provision regarding seeking permission to collect data in specific cases; the police are allowed to collect this data from anyone.
Further, the slew of data which authorities are now allowed to collect, including retinal scans and behavioural traits, are being seen as violative of the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed to all citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. There is also no clear correlation between this wide array of data to be collected and the goal of increasing conviction rates.
The vague wording throughout the legislation, the seemingly unnecessary provisions with regards to the duration which the data can be kept for, and all of these coming with no data protection legislation in place, drew further objections.
It is worth noting here that the Act comes into force only one day after the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, was withdrawn by the Union government, four years after it had been tabled. After being introduced, the Bill had been referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for deliberation and according to an August 3 statement circulated in the Lok Sabha, the JPC proposed 81 amendments and 12 recommendations for a comprehensive legal framework in the digital ecosystem.
The Delhi high court on April 21 had even issued notice to the Union government on a Public Interest Litigation challenging numerous provisions of the law dealing with vague definitions of terms such as “measurements”; the section of people who come under the ambit of the Act; the NCRB’s right to store data; discretionary powers of the authorities; punishments for non-compliance with the Act; and so forth.
The petitioners stated that the aforesaid provisions are arbitrary, excessive, unreasonable, disproportionate, devoid of substantive due process and in violation of fundamental rights of the citizens of India as well as of the basic structure of the Constitution of India, and thus are liable to be struck down by the court.
As such, the high court sought a response from the government and had listed the matter to be heard next in November this year.