In the recent days, we have heard of many instances when CCTV footages have gone missing in important Criminal investigations. This will frustrate the investigations and completely destroy the case.
Deletion of CCTV footages have been alleged in the case of the complaint filed by a Police officer, in Karnataka against the privileged treatment meted out to some inmates of the Parappana Agrahara jail in Bangalore.
Though many of the CCTV footages are circulating in the media, the persons who were supposed to have collected and preserved it appear to have lost it.
Similarly, in the Sunanda Pushkar’s Case, the management of Leela Palace hotel apparently switched off the CCTVs just prior to the alleged murder (could be an excuse also) and the footages which should have showed who visited her earlier have been deleted. Additionally the mobile and the laptop also seems to have been cleaned out of any incriminating information.
Similarly in the case of the unnatural death of an IAS officer Mr D.K.Ravi, again in Karnataka, Police took custody of a storage device from a CCTV camera from the residence of the officer and returned it after two days saying that the tapes had no recording.
In all these cases, it is doubtful if the Courts would be naive enough to believe that the CCTVs were smart enough to have stopped working or go silent at the precise time when they could have provided evidence of what could be a murder or a high profile offence.
The persons responsible in all the three cases mentioned above are none other than the Police officers or Jail authorities who are supposed to know law and uphold it rather than being ignorant computer operators who did not know what they were deleting.
It is important to note that Information Technology Act 2000 (ITA 2000) had actually identified such possibilities and included Section 65 precisely for this purpose.
Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 states:
Whoever knowingly or intentionally conceals, destroys or alters or intentionally or knowingly causes another to conceal, destroy or alter any computer source code used for a computer, computer programme, computer system or computer network,
when the computer source code is required to be kept or maintained by law for the time being in force,
shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years, or with fine which may extend up to two lakh rupees, or with both.
For the purposes of this section, “Computer Source Code” means the listing of programmes, Computer Commands, Design and layout and programme analysis of computer resource in any form.
I am aware that some observers of Cyber Law might not have observed this possibility that Section 65 can be used for deletion of evidence.
They may hold a view that Section 65 is not applicable in the case of CCTV footage either because CCTV footage is not “Computer Source Code” or that the footage was not “required to be maintained under law for the time being”.
But a “Techno Legal Interpretation” of Section 65 indicates that Section 65 can be applied to such cases for the following reasons.
- It is not difficult to accept that the CCTV recording (assuming that it was present at one point of time and vanished later) was an electronic document that was deleted.
This electronic document was recognized as evidence in a potential criminal offence and hence should have been treated as “Evidence” that should have been retained and submitted to the Court or the investigating officer.
It’s deletion was therefore a contravention of both Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 and also Section 204 of IPC.
For applying Section 204, it is enough if the deleted electronic document was an “Evidence” .
For the deletion to be covered under Section 65, we may also have to examine if the electronic document can be considered as a “Computer Source Code” as defined under this section.
2. Generally, the word “Computer Source Code” is understood as
“any binary string which triggers a computing device to alter its state of activity”
In this incident, the binary code which human beings may call as “Video Recording” is read by a computer, which human beings may call as a “Video Player” and the computer later instructs the screen to show some pixel transformations that human beings may call as a “Display of video”.
The video recording therefore is nothing but a “Computer Source Code which Section 65 has referred to.
It is therefore clear that deletion of CCTV footage is a punishable offence under Section 204 of IPC (Punishable with 2 years imprisonment) and under Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 (punishable with 3 years of imprisonment).
Additionally the action may also invoke Section 43(i) and 43 (j) of ITA 2008 which provides for civil damage to be claimed by any person who suffers a damage as a result of such action. Since Section 43 is linked to Section 66, the action would also become a criminal offence for which the punishment is imprisonment of upto 3 years.
Both Section 65 and 66 are cognizable offences though are bailable.
If the deletion has been done by the computer operator under the instructions of his bosses or political directions, the persons who gave such instructions would become “accomplices”.
In the event the affected Police Officer in the case of the Parappana Agrahara incident is eventually suspended or dismissed from service etc and there by suffers a financial loss resulting out of the deletion of the CCTV footage, the affected person can invoke Adjudication (followed by appeal in a Court if required). It is not clear if there is any civil damage in the case of the other tow incidents namely the Sunanda Pushkar or D K Ravi case.
The discussion here is for academic purpose and to show how strong is ITA 2000/8 if it is properly interpreted. We are fully aware that since in all the above cases, the deletion can only be traced to law enforcement persons only, the possibility of any action being initiated there on is improbable and hence the above theory may never be tested at least in these three cases.
If however, CBI takes up the case or some body like Mr Subramanya Swamy takes note, they may bring up the issue before the Courts and we may have an interesting debate.