Technology is no panacea for custodial deaths

Context: Technology has been proposed as a silver bullet against custodial deaths by many. However, these solutions are not as effective as they were intended to be.

A recent increase in the custodial deaths in Tamil Nadu has brought the issue of custodial deaths into the limelight.

Between 2001 and 2018, 1,727 persons died in police custody, but only 26 policemen were convicted for such deaths.

Although a huge time and money have been spent on training police personnel to embrace scientific methods of investigation, custodial deaths are still common.

Technological solutions have been suggested as a prevention measure against custodial deaths. Let’s see how effective have been these solutions.

What are the technological solutions?

Body cameras could hold officers liable.

Deception Detection Tests (DDTs), such as polygraph, narco-analysis, and brain mapping could detect if the person is hiding some truth.

Among the DDTs, the Brain Fingerprinting System (BFS) has proved helpful for solving crimes, identifying perpetrators, and exonerating innocent suspects.

Robots are being used increasingly for surveillance and bomb detection.

Robotic interrogation: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researcher Joseph Weizenbaum concluded that suspects might be more receptive to opening up to automated conversational counterparts than the police. Thus, many robotic interrogators are being favored for interrogating suspects.

AVATAR system: Researchers at the University of Arizona have created automated interrogation technology called The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR). The Canadian Border Services Agency tested AVATAR last year. The HCI system uses visual, auditory, near-infrared and other sensors to scrutinize a suspect’s eye movements, voice, and other qualities throughout an interaction. The aggregation of information and its analysis by the system have been highly accurate.

AL and ML: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are emerging as tools for interrogations. ML can in real-time alert superiors when police are meting out inhumane treatment to suspects.

What are the issues with technological solutions?

In 2010, the Supreme Court, in Selvi v. the State of Karnataka, made the evidence inadmissible as the state cannot perform narco analysis, polygraph, and brain-mapping tests, on an individual, without his consent. However, if consent has been acquired, BFS tests can be part of the evidence.

AI or robot interrogations can be subject to the risk of bias, misuse for surveillance, and targeting of individuals and communities.

Although technological solutions might provide comfort and transparency, they can never address the underlying issues that lead to custodial deaths.

What can be done?

Formulation of a multi-pronged strategy by the decision-makers. Which covers legal enactments, technology, accountability, training, and community relations.

Implementing the Law Commission of India’s proposition in 2003 to change the Evidence Act to place the onus of proof on the police for not having tortured suspects.

Implement the Supreme Court’s judgment in the in D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997) case. In this judgment, SC held that the use of third-degree methods by police is illegal and should not be used to extract the information from the accused.

Revive and Implement Draft bill on the Prevention of Torture, 2017.

Source: This post is created based on the article “Technology is no panacea for custodial deaths”, published in The Hindu on 4th July, 2022.

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