Skip to main content

Ex-civil servants seek law to bar agencies planting 'evidence' in digital devices

Counterview Desk 

The Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), which consists of tens of former Indian civil service officers, in a statement, has demanded the need for legislative safeguards to ensure that search and seizure operations by the police and investigative agencies.
Also insisting on the need to handle electronic evidence by these agencies “in a manner that conforms to democratic norms”, the statement, signed 92 ex-officers, says, they should ensure that the rights of the individual under the Constitution of India are not infringed in any way.
The statement by the group, claiming to have “no affiliation with any political party”, but “committed to the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution of India”, has been made in the context of what it calls “recent disquieting reports about false evidence being planted in the electronic device of an accused in a well-known case”, though without identifying the case.
While the statement appears to have been made against the background of a recent “Washington Post” exposé on “maliciously” planting incriminating letters in computers in order to indict activists for the Bhima Koregaon violence of January 1, 2018, it avoids giving any specific instance.

Text:

Justice is the most fundamental of constitutional principles and criminal justice is the foundation of law and order in a civilized society. Fair and impartial investigation of crimes is at the root of criminal justice. The reports that the police and other investigative agencies may have violated constitutional guarantees and judicial pronouncements in the practices adopted in search and seizure operations, as well as the possibility that they may have been party to planting incriminating material in personal digital devices and harvesting evidence therefrom, have caused us grave concern.
Recent reports of false evidence being planted remotely in the personal computer of one of the accused in a long-dragging sedition case are alarming. It is entirely possible that a similar situation is prevalent with regard to the evidence being used in many other UAPA cases. Such blatantly illegal practices could sound the death knell of the criminal justice system in the country. Hence the need for issuing this statement.
There are several examples that cause deep disquiet about the handling of digital evidence, particularly evidence to be found in personal digital devices. If justice is to prevail, the awesome capabilities that present-day surveillance and spyware technology offers investigative agencies must be circumscribed by strict, meaningful and enforceable statutory safeguards.
There are also persistent concerns about investigative agencies seizing, confiscating or searching through the entire contents of personal digital devices such as mobile phones and laptops of not only accused persons but even those called for investigation or questioning.
We wish to state that the extant generic search and seizure provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure do not address the issues that arise in the context of search, seizure and handling of modern day personal devices.
It is therefore imperative that urgent legislative changes are put in place to guide the investigative agencies with due regard to and adherence to the following principles:

1. Right to privacy

The landmark judgment of the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Puttaswamy’s case makes privacy a fundamental right. This judgment prohibits the investigative agencies seeking transcripts of communications-including Call recordings, WhatsApp/ Telegram/ Skype/ Messenger Chat logs and similar communication records in a wholesale manner without due regard to having to demonstrate necessity and proportionality and respect for privacy of correspondence.

2. Right against self-incrimination

The right against self-incrimination is expressly protected under Article 20(3) of the Constitution and has also received statutory reinforcement under Section 132 of the Evidence Act and Section 161(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is applicable at the stage of investigation and applies equally to witnesses as well as to the accused. Thus, the practice of investigative agencies acquiring passwords to unlock the personal devices or accounts is violative of the right against self-incrimination.

3. Protection of privileged communication

Indiscriminate access to personal information, particularly personal communication, also involves the question of the right of protection of privileged communications, such as communication with one’s spouse, doctor, lawyer etc. At the time of investigation, safeguards must be in place to ensure that there is specific application of mind in respect of each unit of information searched for or seized to ascertain whether such communication has a reasonable likelihood of being privileged.

4. Integrity of electronic evidence

Another important issue is the minimum standards to be adhered to in order to establish the integrity of the electronic material or device that has been taken into custody by the investigative agency. Forensic processes adopted by the investigation agencies also must look for and rule out both pre-seizure and post-seizure tampering of such digital devices.

5. Maintaining transparency

Finally, there is need for full transparency with regard to the technical capabilities that the investigative agencies have either developed and/or acquired for the purposes of either surveillance or processing of digital evidence. The capabilities of our investigative agencies and the methods and processes they employ in relation to surveillance, digital data recovery, replication, storage and destruction must be proactively disclosed.
We are of the considered view that whenever the prosecution relies on such electronic/digital evidence, these should be taken cognizance of only after authentication by a Statutory Expert Body set up for the purpose. The law should also provide that if the Statutory Expert Body comes to the conclusion that there has been mala fide planting or manipulation of such evidence, then it must result in prosecution of the perpetrators under the relevant provisions of Chapter XI of the Indian Penal Code.
We, therefore, urge the Government of India to make necessary legislative changes on the above lines to prevent planting of incriminating material and false evidence in personal digital devices and lay down the overall practice and procedure of handling electronic evidence in a manner that will protect privacy, privileged communications, the right against self-incrimination and the integrity of the evidence and ensure complete transparency in order to ensure the constitutional guarantees of rendering justice to all.
Satyameva Jayate
---
Click here for signatories

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.