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The tragedy of Shafhi Mohammad judgement

Posted by Vijayashankar Na on April 19, 2018
Posted in Cyber Law  | Tagged With: , | No Comments yet, please leave one

“This erroneous interpretation of the bench will directly result in honest persons being harassed by dishonest persons” …. Naavi

The honourable Supreme Court in its order dated 3rd April 2018 pronounced its final order on the Special Leave Petition (SLP 2302 of 2017) regarding the use of videography including body cameras in crime scene evidence capture. There was an earlier interim order of 30th January 2018  on the same SLP which had elaborated more on the issue of Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act.

The order indicates that the Supreme Court wanted to allow such videography and tried to manufacture an acceptable argument to reach a preconceived conclusion. This tendency was earlier seen in the Shreya Singhal case where Section 66A of ITA 2008 was scrapped and also in the Puttaswamy case on Privacy. In all these cases, the Judiciary has come out in poor light as trying to fit its logic to a pre conceived decision. In the process, the judgement creates some untenable and undesirable consequences.

In the Section 66A scrapping, the SC was adamant that it cannot “Read down” the section and nothing short of scrapping it would be acceptable to it. In the Privacy judgement, it was an attempt to rush through a judgement to influence another judgement. Now this Shafhi Mohammad judgement falls into the same category.

In a bid to allow such videography, the two member bench has tried to bend the law in a manner that is highly detrimental to the society and could lead to corruption in judiciary and harassment of innocent citizens by powerful and more intelligent evidence manipulators.

It is not our argument that body cameras and police TV footage should not be used as evidence. In fact these and much more of technology is to be used and is aleady being used.

However, we have a serious objection to the attempt of the two member bench to re-interpret the law as it exists and in derogation of a three member speaking order in the case of P V Anvar Vs Basheer.

The Indian Evidence Act 1872 (IEA) was amended when ITA 2000 was notified and one of the major changes that was brought about  was the introduction of Section 65B for “Admissibility of Electronic Evidence”. This has to be read with Section 65A, Section 22A, Section 17 and Section 3 of the same Act.

Section 65B of IEA is one of the most innovative aspects of ITA 2000/IEA and the Court has failed to recognize the purpose and scope of the section before jumping into passing an order which is bad in law and bad for the community.

The problem which the Police had in using the Videography as evidence was that the videography was captured in some camera and the first copy would be recorded in the device memory which could be the hardware or the removable media. It is then transferred to the Police in the back room and subsequently viewed, edited and presented as evidence in a Court.

In this scenario, if Section 65B was followed, then some body in the Police should have taken the responsibility to give a Section 65B certificate which would pin him down against any manipulation of the evidence.

The Court conveniently ignored  that Section 65B was about presenting a “Computer Output” of an electronic document which may be present either in a camera device or on a server or on a removable media such as a pen drive or memory card. The only requirement was that the Certifier had to take the responsibility to state how he was able to view the document in his computer and how he was able to produce the computer output (say a print out).

Section 65B does not require the lawful owner of the first device which created an electronic impression (sequence of zeros and ones) of an event to either himself give the evidence in the Court. It would suffice if he hands over a memory card to the Police repository in charge with a standard form which identifies the memory card along with a hash value of the entire set of bits and sequences contained there in such as “Videograph of day …. in camera ….) and a signed covering letter. This form of handing over the recorded removable device can be standardised and is not complicated.

Subsequently it is the responsibility of the repository in charge to create clones and copies as may be required along with his own Section 65B certificate. The forensic expert may actually extract much more information than what is visible by using his own tools and he  can provide his findings with his own Section 65B certificate. Similarly if there is a need to edit the video, there is no bar on it under Section 65B except that it has to be recorded as a process in the Certificate. For example if the video is of one hour duration between say 20.30 and 21.30 on 17th April 2018, the edited version may be video between 20.55  to 21.10 and it can be stated as such in the certificate.

What the Court has done now is to say that “No Certificate is required under Section 65B when the electronic document is presented from a device not owned by the person presenting the evidence”. Police can conveniently say that they engaged the services of a free lance video grapher and the camera belonged to him and hence no certificate is required for whatever the Police present.

Even if the evidence is manipulated, there is no responsibility fixed on any body in the absence of the Certificate.

In the same manner, when an electronic document lies on a server not owned by the person it can be manipulated and presented as evidence and the Court has to admit the evidence and ask the defendant to prove that the evidence is wrong.

If therefore some body hacks into a web server, downloads a document, makes changes and captures it, then goes onto to delete the document on the server, he will be in possession of a doctored document which can be produced as evidence which will be automatically admitted. Then it will be the burden on the defendant to prove that the version presented to the Court is fake. This can also happen in WhatsApp messages and Social media where fake documents can be created, captured as uncertified evidence, destroyed in original form and uncertified copy presented to the Court which the Court has no option but to admit.

I would like the two honourable Judges to confirm if they have considered the above scenario before boldly declaring that they would clarify that Section 65B is only a procedural requirement which they consider as redundant in some cases. If they have not, it is necessary for them to review their own decision rather than creating a bad law which exposes the ignorance of the Judiciary.

I accept that the Government has the power to change the law and can even scrap the entire Sections 65A and 65B if they want. But as long as they exist, they exist as independent sections and as the three member bench in the Basheer case rightly observed, it is a special provision applicable for electronic documents and over rides the provisions of Sections 62,63 and 65.

It is therefore incorrect to interpret

” The applicability of procedural requirement under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act of furnishing certificate is to be applied only when such electronic evidence is produced by  person who is in a position to produce such certificate being in control of the said device and not of the opposite party.”

It is also incorrect to interpret

“In a case where electronic evidence is produced by a party who is not in possession of a device, applicability of Sections 63 and 65 of the Evidence Act cannot be held to be excluded. In such case, procedure under the said Sections can certainly be invoked. If this is not so permitted, it will be denial of justice to the person who is in possession of authentic evidence/witness but on account of manner of proving,”

In fact

“This erroneous interpretation of the bench will directly result in honest persons being harassed by dishonest persons”

In fact

“This erroneous interpretation will pave the way for a high level of Judicial corruption because it provides the discretion to the Judiciary to accept evidence without any body taking responsibility for its existence”

In fact

“This erroneous interpretation will place all web place all web based documents admissible without any person taking the responsibility for stating how it was seen and recorded.”

In fact

“This erroneous interpretation will create more rogue judgements where the lower courts will order against the higher courts by way of clarification”

It is therefore essential that the bench immediately reviews its own order and state nothing beyond, that

“The Supreme Court reserves the right to accept electronic evidence without Section 65B evidence in such cases as it deems fit after a necessary examination”

The MHA should get back to the bench for the review as otherwise the MHA under Mr Modi’s Government will be accused of having manipulated the Judiciary to pave the way for Police to file uncertified fake videos as evidence.

Naavi

(This article is a continuation of this previous article)

We draw attention of the public on our earlier article on the interim view expressed by a bench of the Supreme Court on January 30, 2018, which was headlined by most news publications as “Courts can rely on electronic records without certificate: SC”

We had commented in the context “Recipe for corruption in Judiciary- Supreme Court judgement in Shafhi Mohammad V State of Himachal Pradesh“.

This was a two bench order on an SLP but it had stated in the order that

“An apprehension was expressed on the question of applicability of conditions under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act to the effect that

if a statement was given in evidence, a certificate was required in terms of the said provision from a person occupying a responsible position in relation to operation of the relevant device or the management of relevant activities.

It was submitted that if the electronic evidence was relevant and produced by a person who was not in custody of the device from which the electronic document was generated, requirement of such certificate couldnot be mandatory.

It was submitted that Section 65B of the Evidence Act was a procedural provision to prove relevant admissible evidence and was intended to supplement the law on the point by declaring that any information in an electronicrecord, covered by the said provision, was to be deemed to be a document and admissible in any proceedings without further proof of the original.

This provision could not be read in derogation of the existing law on admissibility of electronic evidence.”

The Court quoted one judgement of 1985 and an American judgement of 1972, (delivered long before Section 65B was conceived for electronic evidence) which stated “…it will be wrong to deny to the law of evidence advantages to be gained by new techniques and new devices, provided the accuracy of the recording can be proved. “

A case was made out  through two other cases to state

 “Scientific and electronic evidence can be a great help to an investigating agency.”

 “new techniques and devices are order of the day”

“threshold admissibility of an electronic evidence cannot be ruled out on any technicality if the same was relevant.”

Then the judges referred to the Anvar PV Vs P.K. Basheer case as well as the Navjot Sandhu (alias Afsan Guru) case which it over ruled.

The two member bench referred to the Tomasho Bruno (2015) and Ramsingh (1985 judgement) and went on to conclude

“it can be safely held that electronic evidence is admissible and provisions under Sections 65A and 65B of the Evidence Act are by way of a clarification and are procedural provisions.”

Proceeding further, the two member bench over ruled the judgement of the three member bench in Basheer Judgement which took into account the recent developments in technology and had examined the question of Section 65B in great length and made the following statements.

“Sections 65A and 65B of the Evidence Act, 1872 cannot be held to be a complete code on the subject.”

” The applicability of procedural requirement under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act of furnishing certificate is to be applied only when such electronic evidence is produced by  person who is in a position to produce such certificate being in control of the said device and not of the opposite party.”

“In a case where electronic evidence is produced by a party who is not in possession of a device, applicability of Sections 63 and 65 of the Evidence Act cannot be held to be excluded. In such case, procedure under the said Sections can certainly be invoked. If this is not so permitted, it will be denial of justice to the person who is in possession of authentic evidence/witness but on account of manner of proving, such document is kept out of consideration by the court in absence of certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act, which party producing cannot possibly secure. Thus, requirement of certificate under Section 65B(h) is not always mandatory.”

Accordingly, we clarify the legal position on the subject on the admissibility of the electronic evidence, especially by a party who is not in possession of device from which the document is produced. Such party cannot be required to produce certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act. The applicability of requirement of certificate being procedural can be relaxed by Court wherever interest of justice so justifies.

Now the bench has released its final judgement in the case and a final order has been issued on 3rd April 2018.

We therefore re-visit the judgement on what is stated in the final order, read in conjunction with what was stated in the earlier order of January 30, 2018.

We would like to state that we have no disagreement to the use of Videography by Police through body cameras which was central to the discussions in this case. We are not in disagreement even with the use of  Surveillance, Profiling, use of Artificial intelligence in Policing etc which are opposed to the policy of “Privacy Protection” which are dear to the Supreme Court judges.

But we are in disagreement with the views of the bench as to the conclusions that they have drawn and also to the fact that they have gone against the tradition of not trying to over rule a verdict of the higher court.

We do agree that the Court should exercise discretion when “Justice so justifies” to bend some rules temporarily. This was done in the Sonu @ Amar judgement  for the right cause and we support it. However the judgement in the Shafhi Mohammad Case is boarne out of a wrong interpretation and hence needs to be opposed.

Our opinion on the reasons of why this judgement is bad for the society and is wrong in law is presented below. This is not to show any disrespect on the Court but to engage in an academic debate on a point where we feel that technology related interpretation has gone wrong in this instance and needs to be corrected if necessary.

However, we feel that this being a two member decision relevant to a specific reference cannot create an over riding law against the three member judgement though the Judges seem to think that it should be.

More discussion will follow…

Naavi

We all know that Bitcoin is the popular currency of the criminals. The fact that some honest persons are gullible enough to believe that it is a “Currency” does not create a case for sympathizing with people who might have invested in Bitcoin directly or in a business related to Bitcoin.

While technically, Bitcoin is “An Electronic Document” and is recognized in India as equivalent to a “Paper Document” and the Equivalent Paper document is deemed to say….

“This is a statement that this is a part of a bitcoin issued to wallet ID…. under block chain number…… and that …..bitcoins out of this has been transferred from …..wallet ID to ……..wallet ID”,

some people consider this as “Currency” and many people promote it and deal with it as if it is “Currency”.

However, in India, since RBI is the sole authority to issue “Currency” and it has not issued Bitcoin, making any reference to it as “Currency” is a misrepresentation and an attempt to commit fraud on the society.

Today there are thousands of persons in India who are guilty of this offence and could be rightfully questioned.

However, since the Police themselves have not understood the the real nature of Bitcoin, no action has been taken to prevent frauds on the society by people who advertise Bitcoin business, conduct promotional meetings etc.

There are also many otherwise respectable persons particularly in the tech industry who consider that Bitcoin represents a revolutionary concept of “Decentralized Monetary Control” and protects their investment from inflation, and is a symbol of “Freedom from Regulatory control of personal wealth” etc…

Ultimately, all those who are championing Bitcoin are people who are fighting for their right to hold unaccounted money and ensure that Government should not tax them for the Bitcoin wealth they posses. (Some exceptions could be there to this presumption)

After the demonetization in India, the Black Money holders who are on the run, are the dearest friends of Bitcoin and we can find such friends in many political parties as well as corrupt bureaucrats and perhaps even in the Police and Judiciary.

Recently it was reported that nine rogue police officers in Gujarat, kidnapped a businessman and extorted a ransom of 200 bitcoins (Refer article here). This shows that Police at least some of them, today are aware of the potential of Bitcoin as a proxy for “Black Money” .

Since the entire Bitcoin industry revolves around “Crime”, it is to be expected that “Bitcoin Business” is managed by people who are mentally more friendly with the criminals or are criminals themselves.

I am therefore not surprised when reports emanate that some Bitcoin exchange was hacked, Bitcoin holder was defrauded etc. I donot have much sympathy for those who lose Bitcoins also.

In this background it is interesting to note that a complaint has been filed by Secure Bitcoin Traders Pvt Ltd (Coinsecure.in) by its Director Mohit Kalra that 438.31859715 bitcoins were unauthorizedly moved to a BTC address  as shown below:

The website of the company has put up a notice on its website that users may be assured that their money was safe and action is being taken with investigation authorities.

According to the notice on the website a copy of which is given here, the Company states that the CSO Dr Amitabh Saxena while extracting the coins to distribute to its customer has reported that the private keys have been lost causing the loss of BTCs.

The Company has now filed a complaint, at Delhi and the Police have registered the Complaint as indicated below.

This is not the first time that a Bitcoin Exchange has reported an attack and loss of Bitcoins from its storage.  The value of the Bitcoins reported lost in the current incident is more than 22 crores and as per the above documents, the loss may not be of the individual customers but of the Company.

The Company states that “It feels” that Dr Amitabh Saxena is making a false story and he may have a role to play in the incident.

I am not sure if Police can file an FIR and impound the Passport of the accused based on this “Feeling”. The Company needs to provide some evidence to say that MR Amitabh is the owner of the Bitcoin wallet to which the money has been transferred. Otherwise it is speculation and there could be some other internal rivalry that may be playing out in this case.

I will not be surprised if Mr Amitabh comes out with his own story in which he may reveal that the owners of the Company have many undeclared Bitcoin wallets etc. and some such differences are behind this attempt to fix him.

The ED recently conducted a survey and all the owners of the Company should have given declarations of their own transactions in Bitcoins in the past. Now ED needs to join the investigation and find out if Mr Amitabh has a story of his own to tell.

When a gang of criminals fall out amongst themselves, Police have a field day to unearth many other crimes. In this case also many more Bitcoin deals which represent anti national activities would tumble out during the investigation.

It is likely to be a very sensitive investigation which has to be immediately taken over by CBI since locating the Bitcoin wallet owner is beyond the capability of the Delhi Police.

It’s a Challenge to the Bitcoin Community also

This will also be a challenge to the Bitcoin community itself. Will they help the law enforcement authorities to investigate and unravel the “Privacy” of the Bitcoin wallet? or will they try to preserve the integrity of the Bitcoin system by sticking to the fact that Bitcoin wallet cannot be traced?

Will the “Privacy Activists” who oppose Aadhaar because it can be a Black Money prevention tool come in support of “Bitcoin” ? or remain silent? are the interesting challenges ahead.

I believe that there is a technology (however unreliable it may be) to zero in on the ownership of the anonymous Bitcoin Wallet and if the law enforcement pursues it properly with the help of honest technologists, it may be possible to find out the ownership of the wallet in question and successfully investigate the complaint.

Will it happen? … or some time during the investigations, further flow of Bitcoins to other wallets will result in its closure as “Unresolved”? …only time will tell.

Legal Perspective

While looking at the complaint that bitcoins were “Stolen” from “Company’s Bitcoin wallet”, I am reminded of the complaint in the year 2000 (before ITA 2000) when in Delhi there was a complaint about “Theft of Internet Hours”. At that time there was no ITA 2000 and what had happenned was that a person who installed the internet account for the customer gave away the password to a cyber cafe who cleaned out 100 hours of internet browsing time within a day. The user complained that “My Internet hours were stolen”. I had discussed at that time that it could be a case under “Breach of Trust” etc since it may not fit into  “Theft” under IPC since “Internet Browsing hours” is not a “Movable Property”.

A similar discussion now is relevant. The complaint is that there was an “Unauthorized Electronic Document related activity” resulting in “Wrongful loss to the company”, Suspected to be from one of the employees.

Now the way the Complaint has been lodged by the Company which I consider was not a wise thing for the company to have done rather than gulping down the loss however unpalatable it could have been. According to the complaint, it is a case of “Unauthorized Access” under Section 43 and Section 66 of ITA 2000/8. There could be Section 66C and 66D but it is not clear.

Before the crime is recognized, there has to be an “Evidence of Crime”. We need to know whether 438.31859715 bitcoins were actually available in the Wallet account and it is no longer there. Company has to prove that this wallet account belonged to the Company and it had authorization under FEMA and RBI to open the account and conduct all the transactions it did in the past in the account. This is where ED can catch the company by its scruff and ask for details of each and every transaction that occurred in the wallet and whether they were transactions that were declared in the ED survey or were concealed.

Of course this evidence has to be Section 65B certified.

Then Mr Amitabh has to be questioned on how does he normally extract BTC from the Company’s vault and distributes? … past examples…. (again to be checked and verified with the company’s IT declarations) etc…. again all to be Section 65B certified.

Next is the identity of the Wallet… Who is the Wallet service provider… Is he Indian or not?… Does he come under the jurisdiction of Section 75? … Does it require Interpol assistance for which CBI involvement is mandatory? ..

Overall it is an interesting investigation to follow. Coin Secure by filing the complaint has given an authority for the Police, CBI, Regulators like RBI and the Indian Courts to tear into the  system of Bitcoin management and expose all the nefarious things that happen in the Bitcoin industry.

But the stakes are so high, that unless there is monitoring of the case by public spirited Court and Media, the case will get buried.

Perhaps Mr Modi has to instruct Mr Rajnath Singh to take personal interest in this investigation and take it to the logical end. The Finance Ministry is suspected to have many Bitcoin sympathizers and investigation at their level may not be trustworthy.

Let us wait and watch this interesting battle.

Naavi

(P.S: Parts of the article may be unpalatable to some. Kindly excuse me. Consider that  I am just making a larger point. )

 

 

 

 

Section 65B clarified… e-book

Posted by Vijayashankar Na on February 11, 2018
Posted in Cyber Law  | Tagged With: , , , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

 

 

Naavi has published a few e-books as detailed here

In order to update the e-books a supplementary e-book exclusively on Section 65B titled “Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act clarified” has been published as an “Add-On E Book” and is being provided along with the e-books Cyber Crimes & ITA 2008 and Cyber Laws for Engineers.

This book is also independently made available at rs 100/- on request.

Hope readers would find this  useful

Naavi

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

I recently received a query about whether there is any case law which supports my view that even when a original memory card or CD is presented to the Court, a section 65B certificate is required.

I would like to elaborate on this query and submit my views.

Case Law and its limitations in an emerging area of technology

I understand that most practicing advocates consider that  “Law Becomes a Law only when a Judge says so”. Hence the arguments in most cases except when it reaches the higher courts, is always on the case laws and not on interpretation of the law.

The Judicial interpretations are important in assigning meaning to the words contained in the written law but it can always be re-interpreted. A lower court’s interpretation can be re-interpreted by a higher court and a smaller bench interpretation can be re-interpreted by a larger bench.

Hence when we base our legal view only on the strength of some case law, we are on a temporary time period when a particular judgement is considered as a precedent.

True Experts on the other hand will/should ignore interpretations based solely on case law and will/should always argue with a fundamental interpretation with relation to the legislative intent and what is necessary to meet the objectives of the legislation.

Yes, this would be an “opinion” of a ” Deemed Expert” who may be not anybody who is  “Certified by any government or judicial authority” or by passing an “Examination” in a University. But nevertheless, it cannot be ignored as our experience in the past under Sec 65B interpretation has proved.

It takes years for the Courts at higher levels to consider a legal issue, mull it over under different circumstances and contexts, hearing arguments of all hue and description and arrive at a near consensus view on a matter of legal interpretation of a law text, when it can be considered as a “Case Law”. In the meantime we should not curb our creative interpretation of the law and fail to challenge the decisions of the Court even if it comes from the highest Court.

In the domain of Information Technology Act 2000 as amended to the current date, which includes the Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act , I have always followed this principle that we need to dig up the truth from the current law until it is changed and all of us including the Courts at the highest level are in the process of understanding the law and interpreting them.

Some may consider it as not respecting the tradition where the arguments of practicing advocates start and end with

” In so and so vs so and so, the honourable Supreme Court said so and so and there rests my case, my lord”.

Fortunately, not being a practicing advocate gives me the creative freedom to think differently and let the Judges accept my view if they can hear me out fully and with an open mind. No disrespect is meant here for any judicial authority nor any arrogance is intended.

It is a belief that “God sees the Truth but waits”.

I consider that Cyber Jurisprudence in Information Technology Law and Section 65B is still developing and hence what I say is an input which needs to be considered as a “School of Thought”. I may differ in certain respects with other seemingly logical views of other practicing advocates more vocal than me and more active in the Judicial Academies or Legal seminars. But I would not budge from my considered view.

My Considered view in respect of

“whether a Section 65B certification is required for an electronic document when a original memory card or hard disk is presented before the Court”

is an emphatic yes. 

In such cases, the Court has to invite a person of its choice and ask him to view the electronic document and produce a Section 65B copy for the Court to appreciate.

Indian Philosophy shows us the way

The key to appreciate the above point is that an “Electronic Document that is a piece of evidence is not the memory card per se but the stream of binary data, the zeros and ones that are some where inside the memory card in the form of electric charge positive or negative”.

The memory card is the container or a box that contains the zeros and ones that when viewed in a special looking glass called a computer with appropriate hardware and software, provides some human experience such as a text, a sound or a video.

The process of conversion of the stream of zeros and ones which is the “Original” evidence into a readable document or a hearable sound or a viewable video is dependent on a hardware-software combination such as a card reader, computer, operating system, monitor, speaker, audio processor, video processor, besides the header information that precedes the binary representation of the evidentiary content.

Only when all these function properly in tandem the stream of zeros and ones become a humanly appreciable electronic document which the Judge considers as “Evidence”.

Therefore, while the original evidence such as a memory card can be presented as a physical artefact that is an “evidence” and also admitted as an artefact, the question of who will view the binary content in that and say that it contains a letter written by X to Y or a photograph or an audio etc., remains to be sorted out.

If the Judge himself views the electronic document which is dependent on the system used, software used etc, then he becomes the person responsible under Section 65B to state that the computer which rendered the binary stream contained in the memory card rendered in a particular manner and will do so in future also in similar circumstances.

We can then say that the onus of providing the Section 65B certificate shifts from the person producing the memory card to the Court itself.

The fact that an electronic document residing in Yahoo Group server could be accepted as evidence based on a certificate produced locally by a private person like me was established in the Suhas Katti case in 2004 itself. There was no need for the “hard disk of yahoo group” to be produced in the Court. I suppose this is a universally accepted fact as of now that where there is a Section 65B certificate of a computer output, there is no need for the production of the original electronic document.

In the Basheer case one part that I did not agree with was a reference to the CD in which the offending speech or song was contained as a “Original”. This term has to be correctly defined.

The terminology that should have been used here was the “First Container of the stream of electronic data elements that constitute the evidence in question” instead of the “Original CD”.

We should refrain from confusing between the “Stream of zeros and ones” which are “Binary impulses recorded for future reference and interpretation” in some form, and the container in which these are held together for the time being.

Imagine the situation where a laser computer screen is created in front of your eyes in free space where you see the information that you normally see on a computer monitor. The words are now floating in the air and there is no surface on which they seem to lie. But no such surface actually exist. This clearly establishes the fact that “binary stream” can exist and actually does exist independent of the “Container”.

Another easy way to understand this is in the concept of the “Soul” and the “Body” in Indian philosophy. Does soul exist independent of the body?.. Indian philosophy agrees that Soul exists independent of the body and that when a person dies, the soul leaves the body and ultimately finds another body in which its past life memories are in tact and if there is a right environment, the erased and reformatted memory of the soul in the past life can be rendered in the new body.  (Hypnotic age regression). The soul perhaps exists in this transitory state until it merges itself with the “Paramatma” which we call “Attaining Moksha” in some forms of philosophy.

Without going deeper into philosophy, we should conclude that

a) “Electronic Document means a stream of binary data arranged in such a manner that under appropriate rendition of the stream through a computer device, it produces the human experience of a readable document or an audio or a video.”

b) A memory card or a hard disk is a device which  holds the stream of binary data and makes it available to be used as a hardware which becomes part of the larger computer system that renders the human experience of a stream of binary data.

In an earlier article, I have referred to the Trisha Defamation Case in Chennai AMM Court where I was invited by the Magistrate in a similar circumstance when the CD was already in his hands and there was no need for an external party to certify it in ordinary prudence.

I appreciate the vision of the magistrate D. Arul Raj who correctly interpreted the law that he should not take the responsibility of writing in the judgement,

“I viewed the contents of the CD which contained so and so information… which contravenes such and such law…etc”.

He decided that he requires a third party to certify it and provide him a Section 65B certificate. In this case, I was the person called upon to do so.

Unfortunately This did not go into a judgement (as I understand) since the complainant later withdrew the complaint.

In my opinion, Cyber Jurisprudence does develop not only from the Judgements, but also from the views that emanate from the experts.

Remember that after Afsan Guru judgement in 2005,  many were quoting that I was not correct in maintaining that Section 65B certificate was mandatory for admissibility. But it took 9 more years of erroneous reading of the law to be upturned by the Basheer judgement in 2014.

In between I continued to hold my view and also argued with experts particularly in the National Police Academy who were listening to me on the one hand and also looking at the Afsan Guru judgement and spotted the discrepancy. Most other experts had not even observed this discrepancy and hence not raised the issue in any forum for a larger debate until the Basheer judgement reflected what I was saying all along.

Similarly, any of the views that I have expressed here may not be today the popular view or a view that is necessarily supported by a judgement. But I am confident that judgements will eventually follow what I have stated here.

May be there will be occasions when I will revise my view or the law itself may change. But presently my view is that

“Even when the original binary stream is presented in the container to the Court, the container has to be opened and the binary stream has to be interpreted with the assistance of hardware and software and hence it is necessary for the Judge to take the assistance of a Section 65B Certifier reliable to it. Such a certifier can be a Section 79A certified agency if available or other persons on whom the Court reposes confidence.”

Naavi