E-surveillance of interrogation


It should come as little or no surprise that the Centre and most states have no information about the number of CCTV cameras installed in police stations. The Supreme Court in 2015 had directed the Centre, states and Union Territories to ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in police stations and also in agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, NIA, Narcotics Control Bureau, Department of Revenue Intelligence-- in short in all agencies which have power to arrest people. The direction was reiterated by the court in December 2020. That the Centre and the states have not taken the direction seriously is again typical. The court's direction was given to protect the accused and witnesses in the wake of widespread complaints that they are routinely intimidated, coerced and even tortured into giving statements dictated by the investigators. But six years after the first direction was issued, the Centre this week sought more time to reply. In December the Centre and the states had come up with the excuse that they didn't have the information. Again, not surprisingly, the Centre this week informed the apex court that the case should be adjourned because of 'ramifications'.
While it is no rocket science to guess that the Centre would come up with arguments that CCTV cameras would compromise the ability and integrity of investigations-it may even cite the now ubiquitous national security argument-the fact remains that CCTV cameras in police stations have in many countries instilled confidence among people and checked unprofessional behaviour of the police. In some countries, policemen are even required to put on body cameras that record their movements and real time conversations on duty to check their response. Such e-surveillance can help in checking whether extrajudicial methods are being adopted during the interrogation of the accused, thereby reducing the possibility of custodial torture. The apex court had earlier slammed the Central and state governments for their lackadaisical approach towards installing CCTV cameras not only in police stations but also in the offices of investigative agencies. The states have demanded a budgetary allocation and a liberal time-frame for executing the project.
The police have been imposing fines for traffic rule violations on the basis of CCTV footage. Extending the technology to their own ambit of functioning will require extraordinary integrity. Keeping a watch through CCTV cameras should have a deterrent effect and not be intrusive. The police force needs to be sensitised regarding misuse of powers and overreach. Cameras alone may not serve the purpose fully though. Making it mandatory for the police to produce video statements of the accused and witnesses before and after the investigation could be even more useful in ensuring the integrity of investigations.

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