This post is authored by Ishita Tulsyan and Navdha Sharma.
The introduction of The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022 ( ‘the Identification Act’) raised several surveillance and privacy concerns. Replacing the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920 ( ‘the Old Prisoners Act’), it attempts to modernize the process of identification of persons involved in criminal allegations to expedite and enhance criminal investigations. This is accomplished by expanding the types of ‘measurements’ that can be obtained (ie, the data that can be collected), the persons from whom measurements may be collected, and the storage of the said data for a period of 75 years.
The Identification Act permits the collection of measurements for an expansive set of categories and increases the persons whose measurements can be collected. Section 2 (1)(b) of the Identification Act, defines “measurements.” While the Old Prisoners Act authorized only the collection of measurements such as finger-impressions and foot-impressions, the Identification Act now includes within its ambit “finger-impressions, palm-print impressions, foot-print impressions, photographs, iris and retina scan, physical, biological samples and their analysis, behavioural attributes including signatures, handwriting,” on top of any other examination mentioned in Section 53 and 53A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This represents a significant expansion in the type of data collected from individuals.
In the Old Prisoners Act, measurements could only be taken from persons who were convicted or those arrested in connection with an offence punishable by rigorous imprisonment of more than one year. However, in the Identification Act, the measurements can be taken of all convicted and arrested persons, without any requirement of a minimum threshold for those not convicted. Further, measurements can be taken from individuals under preventive detention as per Section 3(c). Thus, all-in-all, the new Act has introduced a whole sea of new measurements that could be taken, and these new measurements can be taken from more people than under the Old Prisoners Act.
In this blog, the authors analyse the constitutionality of the Identification Act by examining whether the collection and storage of measurements satisfy the proportionality test for privacy infringing measures set out in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v Union of India (5 judge-bench) (“Puttaswamy”).
Proportionality: the Puttaswamy test
The proportionality test, first set out in the Right to Privacy decision, was subsequently elucidated on and applied by J. Sikri in the Puttaswamy judgment; the criteria for judging the constitutionality of State interference with an individual’s right to privacy may be summarised as follows:
- Legitimate aim – the action taken by the government must be for a proper or legitimate purpose.
- Rational nexus – there should be a rational connection between the infringing act and the legitimate state aim sought to be achieved.
- Necessity – the state must demonstrate that it is necessary to introduce an intrusive measure despite the negative effect on the rights of the individuals; including that there are no lesser restrictive measures of similar efficacy available to the State.
- Balancing – between the need to adopt the measure and the right to privacy.
Assessing the Identification Act –
Legitimate Aim; the expansive provision of the measurements does, arguably, have a proper purpose. Just like the Old Prisoners Act, it is meant to aid the police in investigating crimes.
Rational Nexus; completion of the investigative procedure with speed and accuracy is a legitimate state aim and the current expansion in the categories of measurements that can be obtained will aid in achieving that. The new measures would enable the authorities to create a database using the collected measurements and match the data of suspects against it, thereby aiding criminal investigations.
Necessity; there is no denying that the Identification Act interferes with extremely personal data of individuals as it broadens the scope of both the measurements (as explained above) and the categories of people from whom it can be obtained. On a comparative reading of the Section 2(a) Prisoners Act and Section 2(1)(b) of the Identification Act, it is evident that the latter encompasses significantly more data collection than the former. As the erstwhile Old Prisoner’s Act thus constitutes a lesser restrictive measure, the burden then lies on the state to establish that the Old Prisoners Act did not fulfill the “legitimate state aim” as effectively as the Identification Act will. This requires the State to demonstrate that the Prisoners Act failed to meet the state aim of expediting the criminal investigation process because of which there arose a need for a new, more privacy infringing measure Act. Absent this, the Old Prisoners Act remains a viable lesser restrictive measure. However, the State has failed to discharge its burden as it did not provide any data or conduct a study which showed that the Prisoners Act fell short of achieving the state aim. Thus, due to the existence of a less-restrictive alternative (in the form of the Old Prisoners Act), the necessity limb of the proportionality test is not met.
Proportionality or Balancing; it is imperative that State’s rights-infringing measures are not absolute and do not curtail the rights of individuals any more than necessary. The removal of the minimum requirement of severity of offences as it relates to whose data can be collected will enable the authorities to collect data of persons charged with petty offences carrying punishment as little as a month. The Identification Act doesn’t even attempt to define the term ‘biological samples’ and what it would entail. This leaving a major scope for misuse at the hands of state authorities. Due to the term not being defined anywhere, it could be construed to include tests such as narco-analysis, polygraph test, brain electrical activation profile test, etc. Such methods are not only extremely intrusive, violative of bodily autonomy, but also of the right against self incrimination. Further, the proportionality test requires the maintenance of balance between the extent and nature of the interference and the reasons for interfering. While there might be substance in the rationale behind collection of measurements, there is no reasonable justification for retaining the measurements for a period of 75 years, especially as the same severely undermines the right to privacy of such individuals even when they have served their sentence, if any. This is especially true considering that the life expectancy in India is itself 71 years. Thus, even if the necessity limb of the test would have been satisfied, the balancing limb would still warrant that the Identification Act be struck down.
Conclusion The proportionality test given under “Puttaswamy” is a conjunctive test and thus, failing any limb results in the measure being struck down. The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022 fails to satisfy the necessity test to begin with, as the government has nowhere demonstrated that the lesser restrictive measure that the Identification Act replaces failed to meet its investigative requirements. Further, even beyond that, balancing limb of the proportionality test is also not satisfied given the Act’s extremely broad application and excessive data retention requirements. Thereby, it impermissibly restricts the right to privacy of convicted and non-convicted persons.