Probe agencies should pick their battles: CJI Chandrachud

Chandrachud also expresses concern over instances of "unwarranted" confiscation of personal devices during raids

CJI D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: PTI)
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud (photo: PTI)


Underlining that investigative agencies like the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) have been spread "too thin" over the years, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Monday said they must pick their battles and concentrate efforts on crimes that truly threaten the nation's security, economic health and public order.

Expressing concern over instances of "unwarranted" confiscation of personal devices during raids, the CJI said they highlight the pressing need to strike a balance between investigative imperatives and individual privacy rights.

In the realm of criminal justice, the delicate balance between search and seizure powers of agencies like the CBI and individual privacy rights stands at the cornerstone of a fair and just society, he said in his keynote address at the 20th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture in memory of the agency's first director.

At the heart of this balance lies the need to uphold due process while ensuring the effective functioning of law enforcement agencies, he said. “It is important for us, both in the context of not just streamlining the courts but also promoting the efficiency of the CBI and the investigative agencies, to pick our battles.

"I think we have perhaps been spreading our investigative agencies too thin over the years, despite a rapid change in the environment. Our premier investigative agencies must concentrate their attention and efforts on that class of crime which truly threatens the security of the nation, public order or economic health of the nation,” the CJI said.

He said section 94 of the newly enacted Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and section 185 of the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam grant courts and law enforcement the authority to summon documents and materials, including digital evidence deemed necessary for investigation.

"Instances of raids conducted and incidents of unwarranted confiscation of personal devices highlight the pressing need to strike a balance between investigative imperatives and individual privacy rights," he said.

The CJI lauded the new criminal laws enacted by Parliament, saying they aim to digitise various aspects of criminal procedure which is a significant step towards modernising the justice system. He said the comprehensive approach of new laws ensures "a seamless flow of information", and aims to "facilitate better coordination" and "collaboration" among stakeholders involved in the investigative and adjudicatory processes.

CJI Chandrachud said the crime landscape was evolving at an "unprecedented pace", and agencies like the CBI must build their capacities by using technological tools like artificial intelligence (AI). He said criminal investigations must be synchronised with court procedures for effective and time-bound prosecution.

Advanced data analytics enables law enforcement agencies to navigate vast amounts of information, uncovering patterns and connections that might otherwise remain concealed, the CJI said.

Terming AI as a "game changer" in the criminal justice system, however, he also cautioned that AI is not free of prejudice and biases. "Because of skewed data, AI may lead to community-based profiling of marginalised social groups as having more crimes. This may not only abuse the privacy rights of individuals but also lead to disproportionate targeting of social groups. AI is a gift which must only be wielded within ethical boundaries," he said.

He added that by leveraging these tools responsibly and ethically, technological advancements can benefit all members of society, regardless of their background or circumstances.

The CJI also said clear guidelines and safeguards must be established to prevent misuse or abuse of AI and other advanced technologies, safeguard privacy rights, and address biases that may inadvertently arise.

"Leveraging advanced data analytics, cutting-edge forensic methodologies, and artificial intelligence offers unprecedented opportunities to bolster crime detection, investigation, and prosecution. However, this digital transformation must be underpinned by robust safeguards to protect individual rights, promote transparency, and mitigate the potential risks of technological misuse or abuse," he said.

CJI Chandrachud said while digitisation promises increased efficiency and accessibility, it also runs the risk of excluding individuals without internet access or technological proficiency, which remains a significant portion of India's population. He said there was a pressing need to ensure that the benefits of digitisation are equitably distributed and that mechanisms are in place to address the digital divide.

Earlier, the CJI presented the President's Police Medal (PPM) for Distinguished Service to six personnel and the Police Medal (PM) for Meritorious Service to 29 CBI officers.

Welcoming CJI Chandrachud, CBI director Praveen Sood said criminals are leveraging advanced technological capabilities like encrypted social media communication and virtual asset-based transactions. The international dispersal of crimes and proceeds of crimes has necessitated the need for leveraging technology for investigation by police as well as speedier trials.

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