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Karnataka’s new bill seeks to collect samples of prisoners for surveillance

The Identification of Prisoners (Karnataka Amendment) Bill seeks to include collection of blood, DNA, voice, and iris scan samples for effective surveillance and prevention of breach of peace and crime.
The Identification of Prisoners (Karnataka Amendment) Bill reduces the earlier prison term of one year to one month to monitor repeat offenders and contain the growing rate of crime in the state. (Shutterstock)
Published on Sep 17, 2021 12:09 AM IST
By Sharan Poovanna, Bengaluru

The Basavaraj Bommai-led government has tabled the Identification of Prisoners (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2021 for authorities to collect blood, DNA, voice, and retina samples in addition to fingerprints, footprints and photographs of persons imprisoned for over one month.

The amendment reduces the earlier prison term of one year to one month to monitor repeat offenders and contain the growing rate of crime in the state.

The bill was tabled in the ongoing monsoon session in Karnataka assembly on Tuesday. The amended bill seeks to include collection of blood, DNA, voice, and iris scan samples under the definition of the word “measurements” of offender for effective surveillance and prevention of breach of peace and crime.

According to the amendment from the original bill in 1920, the words “rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year”, will be substituted with “imprisonment for a term of one month”, according to the newly tabled bill.

The amendment also includes giving powers to superintendents of police and deputy commissioners of police to order the collection of samples which was earlier only with the magistrates.

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Data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on Wednesday shows that the Karnataka police recorded a conviction rate of 51.2% in cases registered under the Indian Penal Code while their counterparts have registered a far higher number, Hindustan Times reported.

ST Ramesh, the former Director and Inspector General of Police (DG & IGP) of Karnataka said that the existing act allows for collection and storage of photographs, finger and footprints.

“I don’t see any problem because Iris (collection technology) did not exist earlier. It has come 20-25 years back and it is settled and we have access to this technology. DNA was a nascent kind of forensic science and it has been established and in Karnataka also we have a DNA centre and it is a very important forensic tool,” Ramesh said.

He added that voice identification assumes importance since we live in the digital age and voice happens through phone and other online mediums.

He said that the colonial acts including the Indian Penal Code and evidence act “assumes a certain distrust of the police” as confessions made before such officials are not admissible in court.

However, he said that the SP and DCPs have already been empowered with significant powers and there is no reason that they should not be trusted on this one as well.

“You do not have to give extra weightage to a police officer’s statement but don’t undermine it also,” he said.

The bill also has a provision of destruction of photographs and records on measures of acquittal.

“Where any person who, not having been previously convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term of one month or more has has his measurements taken or has been photographed in accordance with the provisions of this Act is released without trial or discharged or acquitted by any court, all measurements and all photographs (both negatives and copies) so taken shall, unless the Court or or the District Magistrate or the Superintendent of Police or the Sub-Divisional magistrate or in any area for a which a Commissioner of Police has been appointed, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, for reason to be recorded in writing, otherwise directs, be destroyed or made over to him after a lapse of ten years from the date of such acquittal or after the said person attains the age of Sixty, whichever is later,” according to the amendment.

However, experts voiced concerns over the specification of the prisoner who will be subject to this collection of such evidence, storage and issues regarding privacy and right to life.

The bill adds to apprehensions of the technology and its use to solve crimes or create a database.

“The state has to impress upon us (public, courts and society at large) as to how the security aspect will be taken care of. If it does not match the standard operating procedure, then this will be a most dangerous exercise,” Dr Dinesh Rao, a forensics expert said.

Though there is consensus that scientific evidence would help to solve crimes and rate of conviction, Rao said that it was important to categorise the offences.

He said that a technology that should be used for terror, mafia and drug-related or other heinous crimes of such intensity should be subject to this law and not all offences and sought to know if a sophisticated process like DNA will be used even for crimes like theft, civil or marital cases.

Though such scientific evidence is crucial for solving crimes, the proposal comes at a time when investigation authorities continue to revert to old school techniques like fingerprint and photographs.

Even though Bengaluru is known as the technology capital of the country, the city police were using the archaic method of using ink for taking fingerprints until two months ago. It was only in January this year that the state police launched a digital database of fingerprints and introduced software from Japan to record and compare fingerprints from a central database, Hindustan Times reported in February.

The DNA Technology Bill is pending before the parliament. However, DNA tests are performed at a very low and limited rate in India, according to a PTI report in August.There are approximately just 30-40 DNA experts in 15-18 forensic labs who conduct less than 3000 tests per year, the report said.

But experts who did side with the creation of a national DNA database also highlighted the importance of handling sensitive biological data and a strong regulatory framework among other requirements to prevent any misuse.

Rao also pointed out that law enforcement authorities have still not been given access to Aadhar database as yet which makes the system redundant to identify suspected persons or worse, unclaimed and unidentified dead bodies.

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