Can use of Technology prevent Custodial Deaths?

Can use of Technology prevent Custodial Deaths?

India has a grim record in police brutality and custodial violence. Between 2001 and 2018, 1,727 persons died in police custody, but only 26 policemen were convicted for such deaths.

What are Custodial Deaths?
• Custodial deaths in India may refer to the deaths of persons in police custody and also to the deaths of persons in judicial custody while undergoing trial or serving a sentence.
• It is not uncommon knowledge that the police, when they grow increasingly frustrated with the trajectory of their interrogation, sometimes resort to torture and violence which could lead to the death of the suspect.

Key Highlights surrounding Custodial Deaths:
• According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Over the last 20 years, 1,888 custodial deaths were reported across the country, 893 cases registered against police personnel and 358 personnel charge- sheeted. But only 26 policemen were convicted in this period, official records show.
• Except in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, no policeman was convicted for such deaths across the country.
• Apart from custodial deaths, more than 2,000 human rights violation cases were also recorded against the police between 2000 and 2018. And only 344 policemen were convicted in those cases.

Why do we see so many Custodial Deaths?

Dearth of strong legislation
• India does not have an anti-torture legislation and is yet to criminalise custodial violence, while action against culpable officials remains illusory.

Use of Excessive Force
• The use of excessive force including torture to target marginalised communities and control people participating in movements or propagating ideologies which the state perceives as opposed to its stature.

Failure to bring Prison Reforms
• There is little transparency in prison system and failure to bring prison reforms leaves prisons affected by older problems of poor conditions, overcrowding, minimal safety against prisoners and manpower shortages.

Failure to ratify on International Standards
• India has signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1997 but its ratification is still due.
• Ratification means acting and bringing in laws and mechanisms to fulfill the commitments. Only signing on the convention doesn’t help.

Role of Technology in Custodial Interrogation:
• Brain Fingerprint System - BFS is a type of lie-detection technique through which a person’s brain waves are measured to find out if the individual is telling the truth while answering questions put to him/her. The technique helps investigative agencies uncover clues in complicated cases.
• Use of Artificial Intelligence - Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are emerging as a tool for interrogations. AI can detect human emotions and predict behavior. ML can in real time alert superiors when police are meting out inhumane treatment to suspects.
• Use of Robots - Police departments are increasingly using robots for surveillance and bomb detection.
• Many experts today believe that robots can meet or exceed the capabilities of the human interrogator.
• From his studies, human-computer interaction (HCI) researcher Joseph Weizenbaum concluded that suspects might be more receptive to opening up to automated conversational counterparts than the police.
• Robots equipped with AI and sensor technology can build a rapport with the suspects, utilize persuasive techniques like flattery, shame and coercion, and strategically use body language.
• Researchers at the University of Arizona have created Automated Interrogation technology called The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR).

Concerns surrounding use of technology:
• There exists the risk of bias, the peril of automated interrogation tactics, the threat of machine learning algorithms targeting individuals and communities, and the hazard of its misuse for surveillance.
• While the technology available to the police and law enforcement agencies is constantly improving, it is a restricted tool that can’t eradicate custodial deaths.

What needs to be done to prevent Custodial Deaths?
• We need to formulate a multi-pronged strategy by decision makers encompassing legal enactments, technology, accountability and training.
• 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 is important in this regard.
• Besides, stringent action must be taken against personnel who breach the commandments issued by the apex court in D.K Basu vs State of West Bengal (1997)
• The Draft Bill on the Prevention of Torture, 2017, which has not seen the day, needs to be revived. Technology may make policing more convenient, but it can never be an alternative for compassionate policing established on trust between the police and citizens.

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