Misleading Article in Times of India on Mobile Pictures and CCTV footage as Evidence

Today, there was a misleading article published in Times of India titled “Mobile pics, videos may be allowed as evidence”. By implication it meant that so far it is not accepted as evidence.

The article says that there is a proposal to amend Indian Evidence Act or Criminal Procedure code to enable Video Recording, CCTV Footages and images captured through Cellular phones as evidence as if the current provisions donot have such a provision.

I hope there is no ignorant Government official who would believe this and jump to get an amendment done. 

The  article was credited to one Mr Rohn Dual, quotes a UP Police officer and  a criminal lawyer Mr Tanvir Mir.

From the body of the article it appears that the lawyer has given the correct opinion that such evidence is acceptable under Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act.  But in his bid to make the headline attractive, an ignorant journalist and/or a sub editor has implied that currently such video evidence is not acceptable and a change of law is required to make it acceptable. Apart from the ignorance of the journalist, I am surprised that a UP Police officer who is quoted also may not have the proper appreciation of the current provisions unless he has been misquoted.

This could be a mischievous article planted by some body who wants such an impression to be gobbled up by some ignorant Judge. 

It is therefore necessary to strongly refute the article and provide a clarification so that no Court is mislead into thinking that mobile data or CCTV footage is not currently acceptable as evidence.

It is sad that people write such articles without understanding that Information Technology Act 2000 was drafted as applicable to “Electronic Documents” in general and not with reference to any hardware called “Computer” so that it could be excluded for another device called “Mobile”.

It is possible that there could be some misunderstanding about mobile documents as to who should certify.

Without going into another detailed discussion, I would like to briefly state as follows:

1.Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act recognizes that a “Computer Output” as described in the section may be presented as “Also a document” representing the “Original” and is admissible as evidence without the production of the “Original” provided the certificate as required under the section is produced.

2. The “Computer Output” can be a print out or another soft copy.

3. The “Original” is the “first recording” of the “String of zeros and ones” which together constitute “evidence” which is sought to be produced as a statement under Section 17 of Indian Evidence Act and as per the special provision of Section 65A.

4. The “Original” “string of zeros and ones” does not have any meaning to a human being unless they are processed through a computing device which consists of an application riding on a software platform which itself runs on a hardware running on a “BIOS” like embedded software. The string of zeros and ones have meaning only to such a compatible computer system and not to a human being directly.

5. In view of this dependency of the “Original” on the computer systems before it is experienced as a Text” or “Audio” or a “Video” by a human being, Section 65B envisages that some human being should take the responsibility for first “Viewing” the “Original String of zeros and ones” and put it in a form in which the Judge can admit it as evidence. That certificate has to say that a certain process was used to view/experience the electronic data and that is the essence of Section 65B.

6. Current provisions of Section 65B is therefore essential and cannot be diluted. Mobile data whether it is an SMS or audio or video, can be therefore presented with an appropriate Sec 65B certificate.

7. The Certificate under Section 65B refers to the generation of the “Computer Output” and not to the generation of the “Original stream of zeros and ones” which constitute the “Original electronic record”.

8. It is not necessary for the mobile operator such as Jio or Airtel or Vodofone or Idea to provide the certificate. Any other contractually capable person who understands how to convert the electronic document residing inside the mobile (earlier referred to as the string of zeros and ones) to a print out or another softcopy can provide the certified copy.

9. If the person providing the certificate is a “Trusted Third Party”, it is better. But this is not a pre-condition. But the credibility and reliability of the Certifier is an important consideration for the Court to admit the evidence without further confirmation from another expert on which the Court has confidence.

10. Section 65B is for “Admissibility” of the document and it does not bar the defense to question the “Genuinity” of the evidence. Genuinity of the “Original” is whether such a document ever came into being or not in the first place. The Section 65B certification is simply that the document as is present in electronic form in its original state is now available in the form of a certified Computer output.

CCTV footages

The above clarifications also apply for CCTV footages.

In the CCTV, there is a continuous stream of video which is stored in the form of a media file. Just as a hard disk contains thousands of documents of which one or two is picked up as relevant evidence, in the CCTV footage also only relevant portions can be picked up and presented as separate electronic documents.

The defence however may question the “selection” from the point of view of whether it was meant to suppress information or mislead as to the meaning of the entire evidence. For example, in a recording of CCTV footage in say a shop where 100 customers have transacted, picking up the portion indicating the 45th customer walking in , transacting and going out and excluding everything else in the evidentiary copy is acceptable. But within a conversation which consists of 10 sentences, picking some sentences and deleting the rest should be avoided.

If however there is a conversation for 1 hour and some body would like to present only 5 minutes of the same, it can be admitted with the proviso that the defence may demand the presentation of the entire conversation and allege that some thing contrary to what is presented happened earlier or subsequently.

CCTV owners must remember that as soon as they come to know that a particular piece of information captured is a “Potential Evidence”, whatever is reasonably suspected to be associated with it such as the immediate earlier and immediate later recording with reference to an incident should be considered as plausible evidence and the entire stream/s should be securely archived. If they are deleted with the knowledge that they are “evidence” then the CCTV owner may be liable to be charged with Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 or other IPC.204.

If any of the readers have any further doubt as to the above, I request them to contact me for further clarification.

Naavi

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About Vijayashankar Na

Naavi is a veteran Cyber Law specialist in India and is presently working from Bangalore as an Information Assurance Consultant. Pioneered concepts such as ITA 2008 compliance, Naavi is also the founder of Cyber Law College, a virtual Cyber Law Education institution. He now has been focusing on the projects such as Secure Digital India and Cyber Insurance
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