Technology has the potential to make enforcement more effective — but also more harmful. 

The second stage of the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS), a Rs 3,500 crore initiative, is set to be finished by 2026, with increased use of artificial intelligence, fingerprint systems, and other predictive policing tools, the Union Home Minister said on March 11 at the NCRB Foundation Day. There had already been one crore fingerprints submitted, according to the minister, and if these were made available to all police stations as parts of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), there would be no need to pursue criminals. 

To combat crime in the state, the Indore Police Commissioner recently introduced a “fingerprint-based criminal record data fetching system” designed by Citizen Cop Foundation. The compact thumb impression machine may be attached to a phone and used to gather fingerprints at checkpoints, public places, and other locations. All information regarding a person’s criminal record will be pulled up if the fingerprint registered corresponds with the police database. The method is praised since it eliminates the lengthy wait for fingerprint analysis as part of investigations. Existing fingerprints of people who have been expelled from a district, drug peddlers, those who have escaped from jails, and those who have committed vehicle theft are being added, according to the commissioner. However, the eagerness for collecting and cross-referencing data to improve policing efficiency overlooks privacy concerns and structural flaws in the system. 

In K.S Puttaswamy, the Supreme Court held that a fundamental right to informational privacy is vital and that any measure aimed at gathering information or surveilling must be legitimate, necessary, and reasonable. Given that police repeats existing casteist views of who criminals are and how they should be controlled, state surveillance for policing needs to be re-evaluated in this light. 

In the pretext of developing efficient police infrastructure, the existing ICJS and CCTNS systems allow the state to cross-reference data amongst different pillars of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, adding a “fingerprint-based criminal record data fetching system” to the list of predictive police methods may result in widespread surveillance, particularly of suppressed caste communities, based on little evidence. 

Under the colonial Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes were labeled as “offenders by birth” and “hereditary criminals addicted to the systematic conduct of non-bailable offenses.” It has been replaced with the hazy Habitual Offenders (HO) provisions, which have served as a tool for police to continue to attribute criminality to Vimukta communities by requiring regular check-ins at police stations and the signing of bond undertakings for “security and peacekeeping” through local police stations. The police keep dossiers on habitual offenders that contain extensive demographic information, personal information, and “proof” of criminality, such as details of their habits, methods of committing crimes, property, acquaintances’ information, and places they frequent, among other things. 

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