Ex-bureaucrats urge change in procedures for electronic evidence in view of Rona Wilson’s case
92 former IAS, IPS and IFS officers have urged the government to make necessary legislative changes to prevent the planting of incriminating material and false evidence in personal digital devices
The revelation that the Bhima Koregaon case accused Rona Wilson’s computer had incriminating documents planted by outsiders created a furore a few weeks back and lawyers as well as human rights activists demanded a thorough investigation into the whole episode. Wilson had also moved the Bombay High Court immediately. His petition is still pending though it is of urgent importance relating to his fundamental rights.
The documents planted on his computer included a letter mentioning a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of India in another “Rajiv Gandhi type of incident”.
If the forensic audit report released by a US firm Arsenal Consulting is correct, it indicates that the charges made by the Central agencies against the Bhim Koregaon case accused might be based on fake documents. The accused have been denying the allegations in the charges made against them on the basis of documents whose authenticity is now in doubt.
A group of former civil servants has already expressed concern at the report. “The reports that the police and other investigative agencies may have violated constitutional guarantees and judicial pronouncements in the practices adopted in search and seizure operations, as well as the possibility that they may have been party to planting incriminating material in personal digital devices and harvesting evidence there from, have caused us grave concern,” the statement signed by former civil servants reads.
The statement signed by former IAS officers Anita Agnihotri, Salahuddin Ahmad, M.G. Devasahayam, Wajahat Habibullah and N.C. Saxena among others, states that whenever the prosecution relies on such electronic/digital evidence, these should be taken cognizance of only after authentication by a statutory expert body set up for the purpose.
The group also expressed concern at investigative agencies seizing, confiscating, or searching through the entire contents of personal digital devices such as mobile phones and laptops of not only accused persons but even those called for investigations or questioning.
“We wish to state that the extant generic search and seizure provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure do not address the issues that arise in the context of search, seizure and handling of modern-day personal devices,” the statement says.
The signatories – a total of 92, comprising former IAS, IPS and IFS officers – have urged the government to make necessary legislative changes to prevent the planting of incriminating material and false evidence in personal digital devices and lay down the overall practice and procedure of handling electronic evidence in a manner that will protect privacy, privileged communications, the right against self-incrimination and the integrity of the evidence and ensure complete transparency in order to ensure the constitutional guarantees of rendering justice to all.
Human rights lawyers and activists feel that the Arsenal report’s findings are too important and there should be a thorough investigation into this affair. As the former civil servants have stated, the Centre must bring about legislative changes in the procedures for electronic evidence so that no such planting can take place. However, the government is yet to respond to this major issue relating to fundamental rights.
(Views are personal)