Hyderabad Police always makes news with its public oriented policies and crime control strategies. Many brickbats and bouquets credited in their kitty. This force remained top in crime control across the states with efficiency, dedication and confident working modules and executing force.

Recently, a Twitter user identified as Lakshmi tweeted to the ‘Cyberabad Police’ about an incident where the Cyberabad Police asked her male friend to record his fingerprints. When Lakshmi, a law student, asked the reason for the fingerprint collection, the officers cited “investigation for a crime” as the reason behind the biometric data collection. The police claimed to be using her friend’s fingerprints to check for past criminal activity. Lakshmi along with her friends were near Inorbit Mall in Hyderabad at the time of the incident.

The police loaded her friend’s fingerprints and other data into their tablet devices. Lakshmi and her friends were not given a valid reason for the fingerprint collection and neither were they informed under what sections of the law the police were carrying out the data collection. Those whose data were collected were neither informed that their fingerprint data was uploaded to the TSCOP app, nor were their permissions sought. The data collection drive by the police is illegal, say researchers on open data.

The police insist that the exercise is being carried out as a pre-emptive measure to stop crime. However, there are no legal provisions that allow the police to stop random citizens in the streets and demand their biometrics. The only piece of legislation that allows police to collect biometrics of a person such as a fingerprint and a photograph is under the Prisoners Act 1920, say lawyers.

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The Act allows for the collection of fingerprints and photographs of convicted persons, non-convicted persons and habitual offenders, but only if an arrest has to be made and those arrested should have committed an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term upwards of one year.

The Cyberabad Police Twitter handle took notice of the tweet by asking the Madhapur police station to look into the matter.

“It’s not a special drive, it was done for prevention of crime, not specifically focusing on someone. We do this where a gathering of people is there. Our people might have done this under Section 149 b for prevention of crime,” A Venkateshwar Rao, DCP Madhapur, told #KhabarLive.

Section149 deals with the power of the police to prevent cognisable offences. Under the section, every police officer ‘may interpose for the purpose of preventing, and shall, to the best of his ability, prevent, the commission of any cognisable offence’.

This is not the first time that the police in Telangana armed with tablet devices have been collecting citizens’ data to feed into the TSCOP app. The practice started sometime in 2015 as part of ‘Operation Chabutra’ usually carried out at nights, while in 2018 the police began collecting pictures. Earlier in 2019, the Hyderabad police began collecting facial data of citizens and started the data collection drive during the daytime.

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Srinivas Kodali, an open data researcher, points out that in 2015 the Telangana government through the Samagraha Kudumba Survey collected citizen data from across the state. “The access to this database has also been given to the police. The database is also linked to the national databases and various other databases,” he says.

The police say such databases help them create a 360-degree profile of a criminal.

The researcher, however, points out there are no legal provisions that allow the police to collect citizen data neither are there safeguards in place to prevent misuse of the data. “People have to go to court, that is the only way to stop this illegal data collection by the police. If you don’t stop them now the police will begin sitting inside people’s houses.”

It was in 2009 while the UPA was in power in the Centre that a Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the crime and criminal tracking network and system (CCTNS).

The CCTNS was to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the police by creating a nationwide network infrastructure for creating an “IT-enabled-state-of-the-art tracking system around ‘Investigation of crime and detection of criminals’”. The project would cost Rs 2,000 crore and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) was tasked as the implementing agency.

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CCTNS as a system was to provide police on the ground with tools, tech and info to facilitate detection of crime and criminals. It was to also help keep track of cases, including court cases.

The Telangana police often boast about their award-winning TSCOP app and its functions. The app, which now supports facial recognition, was all part of efforts to digitise police functioning. Hyderabad was the testing ground where the pilot projects for digitising police work was implemented. TSCOP, launched in 2018, was part of this effort, to populate the CCTNS, say researchers.

Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujrat are the only three states to have implemented 90-99% of CCTNS in their police stations.

The NCRB intends to add specialised solutions to the CCTNS in the coming years, such as a National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS), Fingerprint Enrolment Device (FED), Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS), Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), etc.

The tender work for some of these processes is ongoing, while some of these features are already functional in Telangana, such as the facial recognition function in the TSCOP. #KhabarLive