Technology can make policing better and also more dangerous

Contact Counsellor

Technology can make policing better and also more dangerous

  • On March 11 (NCRB Foundation Day), the Union Home Minister remarked that the second phase of the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS), a Rs 3,500 crore project, is set to be completed by 2026 with increased use of artificial intelligence, fingerprint systems and other tools of predictive policing.

Fingerprint-based criminal record data fetching system

  • Indore Police Commissioner recently unveiled a “fingerprint-based criminal record data fetching system” developed by Citizen Cop Foundation to control crime in the state.
  • The small thumb impression machine can be added to a phone to capture fingerprints at checking points, public spaces, etc.
  • If the fingerprint recorded matches with the police database, all information about a person’s criminal record will be pulled up.
  • The system is being lauded as it circumvents the long waiting period in fingerprint analysis as part of investigations.
  • The commissioner noted that existing fingerprints of those externed from a district, drug peddlers, those who escaped from jails and those who have committed theft of vehicles are being added.

Recurring Issues

  • The enthusiasm for generating and cross-referencing data to make policing more efficient ignores privacy concerns and structural faults of policing.
  • The Supreme Court in K.S Puttaswamy declared a fundamental right to informational privacy as paramount and noted that any measure that sought to collect information or surveillance must be legal, necessary, and proportionate.
  • Integrating “fingerprint-based criminal record data fetching system” to the list of predictive policing practices will give birth to mass surveillance, particularly of certain oppressed caste communities, based on little evidence.

Injustice to the “already oppressed”

  • Nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes were ascribed “criminal by birth” and considered as “hereditary criminals addicted to systematic commission of non-bailable offences” under the colonial Criminal Tribes Act, 1871.
  • It has been replaced with the murky Habitual Offenders (HO) provisions, which have acted as a tool for police to continue to attribute criminality to Vimukta communities.
  • It has mandated their surveillance through regular check-ins at police stations, signing of bond undertakings for “security and for keeping the peace” through local police stations.
  • The police maintain dossiers of habitual offenders, which includes extensive demographic details, personal information and “evidence” of criminality:
  • Details of their habits
  • Their method of committing crimes
  • Property
  • Particulars of their associates
  • Places they frequent
  • Members of Vimukta and Adivasi communities are being summoned by the police to get their records updated with copies of their Aadhaar cards and photographs as part of “Operation clean”.
  • Data related to work, family members, fingerprints etc are being collected through vague notices that make no mention of the law under which they have been invoked or include any cogent reasons for the summoning of an individual.
  • This effectively means that even after being acquitted by the courts, a person continues to be an object of policing.
  • Mere suspicion or FIRs filed against an individual are sufficient to trigger the discretionary powers of the police.
  • Those subject to policing rarely include dominant caste persons with resources, who may have even been convicted of a crime.

Need to rethink

  • This has an all-encompassing impact on the lives and livelihood of these oppressed communities.
  • They are forced to live in informal settlements in urban spaces which are heavily surveilled.
  • With the interlinking of policing data, across different jurisdictions and centralised through the ICJS, this targeting runs the risk of being replicated as a pan-India phenomenon.