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Building a Responsible Cyber Society…Since 1998

The January 30, 2018 order of the two member bench of the Supreme Court consisting of  Justices A.K.Goel and U.U.Lalit, in the case of Shafhi Mohammad Vs State of Himachal Pradesh dated 30th January 2018 (SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL.)  was discussed in these columns earlier. While commenting on the order, it was pointed out that it would unleash “Judicial Anarchy” in India as it would encourage lower Courts to pass judgements against the higher Courts by way of “Clarification” and also because this judgement having the banner of Supreme Court could put the lower courts in a state of confusion on how to address the Section 65B (IEA) certification. The final judgement of 3rd April 2018 as a final order on the SLP has indicated that the Court has not made any attempt to set right its erroneous interim order.

The Judgement was also called a “Tragedy” since it indicated the inability of the Supreme Court to understand technology and an attempt to find short cuts to some imaginary problems.

It was pointed out that the erroneous judgement would give a thrust to mischievous criminals who would fabricate evidence to harass innocent persons.

Unfortunately, the speculation that this Supreme Court judgement would spur Cyber Crimes appears to be coming true sooner than expected.

The essence of the objections raised is as follows.

  1. Under Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act,(IEA), an electronic document is admissible in a Court without the production of the original if it is properly certified as required under the section.
  2. There is some confusion in the Judiciary as well as some legal practitioners as to why certain procedures mentioned in the section are relevant and how they should be interpreted. This includes who has to issue the certificate and how the certificate has to be constructed etc. These have been explained in detail in the columns of www.naavi.org and www.ceac.in
  3. The Supreme Court itself in the celebrated case of P.K.Basheer has explained at length why Section 65B certificate is mandatory under Section 65B and it has been so since 17th October 2000 though different Courts were unable to understand the section and allowed its violation from time to time. This was a three member bench of the Supreme Court and the Shafhi Mohammad bench had no authority to amend the judgement with a “Clarification”.

During our earlier discussions on the Shafhi Mohammad judgement, we have clearly pointed out that it gives a free license to falsify evidence and it could be mis-used.

Now one such case has been reported from Bangalore and is an indication that more such cases will surface in the coming days.

Further, we predict that the Police themselves under the influence of the politicians will falsify evidence and create human rights issues in future. At that time the same Supreme Court will harp on “Freedom of Speech”, “Right of Privacy” and other fundamental rights to criticise the Police. Politicians will then direct the criticism against the Modi Government. The rebellious judges of the Supreme Court and the activist lawyers like Dushyant Dave, Kapil Sibal etc will enjoy the predicament of the Government.

The complaint I am referring to is an incident where a suspected student of an educational institution posted a message in the time line of the Dean, took a screen shot, distributed it in WhatsApp groups, deleted the time line post. After this, a police complaint has been filed either by the same person or some body at his instance that the Dean had made the objectionable posting and has since removed it.

It is clear that such insertion of objectionable posts on the time line in Facebook can be done wherever the owner of the Face Book account has enabled postings on his time line by the public or Friends.

While we advise every reader to check their Privacy Settings in their Face Book account to ensure that such postings on the time line are limited to “Me Only”, we proceed to discuss here how the Shafhi Mohammad judgement creates a problem for the innocent victims of such crimes.

According to the Shafhi Mohammad judgement, since Face Book account of the Dean is not under the control of the complainant, there is no need for him to submit the Section 65B certificate along with the print out of the screen shot allegedly containing the objectionable post. It would be admissible and the trial would begin with the Dean trying to defend that he did not either post the content or delete it subsequently.

The only person who can come to the assistance of the Dean is Face Book which must have the log records including the IP address of the person who made the objectionable post. But getting the evidence out of Facebook is impossible for an ordinary mortal unless the Police move quickly which in most cases is not possible.

(Ed: we have earlier pointed out how the Cyber Crime Police Station of Mumbai-BKC botched up a complaint by refusing to issue a simple request to Google for an IP address resolution possibly in pursuance of some illegal gratification and the higher officials of the Mumbai Police did nothing to correct the situation even when it was brought to their attention. Refer here)

If Section 65B certificate is considered mandatory, then the complainant would have to file the certificate. It could have been filed by the complainant himself in which case the Court could have the option to reject it as not credible since it is a “Self Serving evidence.”

If it is submitted  by a trusted third party, such a person would have to view the objectionable post himself and certify its existence with some additional information and also be ready to face the charge of “perjury” if it really did not exist on the time line.

Since Section 65B certificate is a matter of fact certification, the certifier  would not be able to forensically certify the genuineness of the posting but he would have given some additional material information for investigation to proceed. This would have created one hurdle for the complainant to first find a suitable accomplice to provide the certification and then to convince him that the request is genuine. Then the credibility of the certifier could have acted as an additional check against provision of the false evidence.

Unfortunately, if Shafhi Mohammad judgement is to be applied, there would be no need for a Section 65B certification and it is left to the wisdom of the Court to accept the evidence as presented and proceed with the trial.

By God’s grace, we can say that the  “Clarification” provided by the SLP order is by a two member bench and hence should be ignored. But we strongly feel that this tendency of the lower bench to pass an order over turning the larger bench view and terming it as “Clarification” needs to be corrected by the intervention of the CJI.

In the meantime, we urge the Bangalore Cyber Crime police to prove that they are not like the Cyber Crime Police of BKC, Mumbai and would ensure that Facebook would be made to provide the evidence and resolve the complaint appropriately. If during the investigation it is found that the posting was done by the complainant himself, he should be punished for hacking into the Face Book account of the Dean with a dishonest intention and take action under Section 66 of ITA 2008 along with other provisions of IPC.

In case, like the BKC Cyber Crime Police Station, Bangalore Cyber Crime PS also dithers, then innocent victims will keep cursing the Shafhi Mohammad judgement until it is corrected.

Naavi

I must admit here my excitement about Quantum Computing and discussing the impact of a principle of Physics for Cyber Law development, since I left my formal college education as a student of Physics, when the Quantum Mechanics was at its infancy and it is a feeling like being “Back to the Past” .

Though I had my post graduation in Nuclear Physics and studied Particle Physics to some depth, specialized in subjects such as Nuclear Forces etc., the subject of Quantum Physics was still new and not understood properly at that time. I  had even baffled everybody including myself in an interview at Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad when I solved a quantum physics question in real time put to me by the interviewers  who were interviewing me for the post of a “Scientific Assistant”  which most other interviewees had failed to do.

Though I refused the offering despite repeated requests to join and turned my back to the pure science, I never imagined that after 40 years I will return to study the impact of Quantum Mechanics to the present domain of my specialization which happens to be the Techno Legal aspects of Law.

But it appears that Cyber Law in India and elsewhere will be deeply impacted with emerging technologies of which Quantum Computing is one which will over turn many of the present concepts of law.

Hence study of “Cyber Laws in the Emerging Technology Scenario” will be the new focus which we should term the “Quantum Cyber Law Specialization” or “Futuristic Techno Legal Specialization”.

Naavi


Today I have taken one topic for discussion which is the interpretation of Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act (IEA) and to examine if Naavi’s Interpretation of Sec 65B survive the Superpositioning concept of Quantum Computing.

The legal and Judicial community has struggled to interpret the section even after 18 years of its existence and it would be a further challenge to interpret Sec 65B in the emerging quantum computing age. For a large part of these 18 years since Section 65B (IEA) came into existence,  few recognized its existence and hence there was nt much of a debate on the topic. It is only in the recent past that the community has started discussing the issue many times with a wrong perspective.

During most part of this time, Naavi’s interpretation of Section 65B was not seriously challenged. In the recent days there are a few law professionals who would like to interpret things differently. They may draw support from some Judges who are dishing out judgements without fully understanding the impact of their wrong decisions on the society. This tendency comes from the inability of some to un learn what they have learnt for the last 3 or 4 decades of their legal career. They are therefore uncomfortable with what the Supreme Court stated unambiguously in the Basheer Judgement and want to interpret things in their own way.

Naavi has been saying, wait… it took 14 years for Supreme Court to realize the existence of Sec 65B and it may take a few more years for the entire community to come to the same understanding which Naavi has been advocating since 2000.

In this connection, I have tried to give a thought to what will happen to my interpretations of Section 65B when Quantum Computing comes into play.

Quantum Computing is not an easy concept to understand even by specialists in Physics. Hence for the lawyers and judges to understand Quantum Computing would be understandably challenging. It is possible that I also may have to refine some of my own interpretations presented here and I reserve my right to do so. I will however explore all the Cyber Law challenges presented by the Quantum Computing. For the time being, I am only looking at the concept of “SuperPositioning” and its impact on Section 65B interpretation.

What is SuperPositioning

SuperPositioning is a concept in Quantum Computing.  In the classical computing scenario, a Bit can have a value of either 0 or 1. The Quantum Bit or Qubit can however have a value of 0 and 1 at the same time. When you measure the value, it will show either 0 or 1 but when you are not measuring it can hold two values simultaneously.

This “Dual State capability” of a Qubit may be fascinating for the scientist who swears by the concepts such as Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty, multiple quantum energy levels of the electron in a hydrogen atom, quantum energy state of the nucleus of a Phosphorous atom, the direction of spinning of a sub atomic particle, light being both a wave and a particle at the same time, there being a parallel universe, time being a new dimension, Worm-hole being a tunnel to future, etc.,.

But to a judge who is looking for “Evidence beyond reasonable doubt” and for the criminal justice system where a witness is expected to answer only in the binary- “Yes” or “No”, the uncertainty inherent in the Quantum Computing will be a huge challenge.

In fact, at present we can state without battling an eyelid that if I stand on the witness box and start talking of the “SuperPositioning” and more specifically on the “Entanglement” aspects of Quantum Computing and how it requires a re-interpretation of Section 65B, I will be thrown out of the Court as some body who has lost his mind.

Since no body can throw me out of this blog, let me take the courage to proceed further and try to raise some issues which may be academic discussion points as of now but will be important for the Cyber Lawyers of the future.

But in the days to come, Cyber Law will be revised to accommodate the “Uncertainty Principle of an Electronic Document”. The time to recognize this concept has already come in respect of Section 65B.

Current Dilemma in Section 65B Yet to be resolved

From the years since ITA 2000 came into being and until the Supreme Court judgement in the P.K.Basheer case on 18th September 2014, there was little discussion on Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act (IEA) in the higher echelons of the Indian judiciary.

The decision of the Chennai AMM Court accepting the first Section 65B certificate issued by Naavi and convicting the accused in the historic Suhas Katti case (Refer here), was perhaps too insignificant in the eyes of the many senior advocates to take note of and hence was not noticed.

Since there were no debates in the august Supreme Court about Section 65B, “Eminent Advocates” who had gained their eminence through their expertise and years of work in “Non cyber law” domains such as Constitutional Law or Law of Evidence did not take time off to discuss the implications of Section 65B in right earnest. One opportunity that was presented in the case of Afsan Guru case in 2005 was lost because the case was a high profile case of terrorist attack against the Nation in which technical issues could not be given too much of importance. Hence when Mr Prashant Bhushan raised the technical issue of non availability of Section 65B certificate for some of the evidence, Court considered the other evidence before it and proceeded with the case.

This was interpreted as a rejection of “Mandatory requirement of Section 65B certificate” under Section 65B and became a precedent that prevailed until the Supreme Court over turned it in the P.K.Basheer case. 

However, Naavi continued to hold his forte and did not accept the Afsan Guru judgement in respect of mandatory requirement of Section 65B certificate for electronic evidence admissibility as correct.

We have discussed several the issues arising out of P.K.Basheer judgement both in naavi.org and ceac.in and readers may refer to them for more clarity.

We have held that the P.K.Basheer judgement has provided judicial support to most of the views of Naavi regarding Section 65B. There was only one aspect of the judgement where we have pointed out that a clarity remained to be exercised. It was in the view expressed in the judgement as follows:

“The situation would have been different had the appellant adduced primary evidence, by making available in evidence, the CDs used for announcement and songs. Had those CDs used for objectionable songs or announcements been duly got seized through the police or Election Commission and had the same been used as primary evidence, the High Court could have played the same in court to see whether the allegations were true. That is not the situation in this case. The speeches, songs and announcements were recorded using other instruments and by feeding them into a computer, CDs were made therefrom which were produced in court, without due certification.”

Naavi has consistently held that “Electronic Record” is a third type of evidentiary object that is different from “Oral” and “Documentary” as provided in Section 17 of IEA and should be considered as a special category whose admissibility is under the provisions of Section 65B alone.

While interpreting Section 65B, some of the “Eminent Non Cyber Law Jurists” have still not reconciled to the unlearning of the concept of “Primary Evidence” and “Secondary Evidence” where “Primary Evidence” lies inside a CD or a hard disk and “Secondary evidence” is a copy that is produced since primary evidence cannot be produced in the court.

In the electronic document scenario, the original document is a “Binary Expression”. The binary expression which we call as an “Electronic Document” is a sequence of bits which is present either in the form of magnetic states of a unit of a magnetic surface or as the depressions on a CD surface which reflect light in a manner different from its neighboring unit. The stream of such bits when read by a reading device associated with a software running on a hardware interprets the sequence of binary expressions as a “Text”, “Audio” or “Video” which we, the humans call as “Electronic Documents” and debate if it is “Primary Evidence” or “Secondary Evidence”.

The “Original Electronic Document” is an expression that can only refer to the first creation of a given sequence of bits which constitute an electronic document being interpreted as evidence. For example when a digital camera captures a picture, it first creates a sequence of bits in the RAM space. This is however not a recognized electronic document where it is in a state not “meant to be accessible so as to be usable for a subsequent reference”. (Sec 4 of ITA 2008).

When this sequence of bits gets transferred to  a “Stored Memory” in a device such as a “memory card” or a “hard disk” etc., that represents the first instance of the electronic document that came into existence. Before this, the magnetic/optical surface on which the document is recorded was in a  “Zero State”. Every bit on the surface was designated “Zero”. When the electronic document is being etched on the surface some of these “Zero” s were converted into “Ones” and the “Unique sequence created” was subject to a “Protocol”. This sequence of bits stored subject to a “Protocol” is what we call as “Original Document”.

But this “Original Document” has no meaning without being read in devices which understand the protocol and renders the information in a human understandable form. For example, if the image has been captured in a .txt or .doc or .mp3 or .avi or .mp4 or formats, then the electronic document has a sequence of zeros and ones which conform to the respective protocols. It is not possible to separate the protocol information from the electronic document itself and hence the document remains in a given format along with the protocol information.

When a reading device is presented with the electric/electronic impulses generated by such a sequence of bits, if the device is capable of interpreting the protocol, it will convert it into a humanly experience document which we may call as Text, Audio or Video which a judge can view and take action. If the device is not capable of understanding the protocol, the document would be rendered in an un-intelligible form. If it is a text, it will appear as gibberish, if it is an audio we may here a meaningless echo sound, if it is a video we may see only lines on the screen. If a sequence of bits need to be experienced by a human being, we must use a device which understands the protocol and converts the bits in a specific manner into an humanly readable/hearable/viewable form on a computer screen or a speaker.

So, even if in the Basheer case the original CD had been produced or in the case of Suhas Katti, the hard disk with yahoo.inc had been produced or in other cases, the memory card of a video camera is produced as “Original Evidence”, the judge can view it only if he uses a device which is configured to the protocol to which the sequence of bits corresponds. If the judge takes a view of the document as he is seeing on a computer, he is responsible for the protocols that have been used in rendering the sequence of bits to a humanly understandable document.

In a comparable environment, if a “Forged” signature is being questioned before a Court, the judge can himself view the signature and form his own opinion on whether the signature is forged or not. But prudence requires that the Court will ask another expert to give it a certificate whether it is forged or not so that the Judge does not become the witness and will only try to interpret the evidence with reference to the law.

The same principle applies to electronic documents viewed by a Judge without insisting on a Section 65B certificate from another.

This aspect was recognized by the magistrate Thiru Arul Raj of the Chennai AMM court in the Trisha defamation case referred to by me in my article on “Arul Raj, the Unsung Hero” (Refer here) in which the principle was laid down that even when the so called “Original” electronic document is before the Court, it has to be Section 65B certified by a third party.

In this background we can now appreciate why the Section 65B certificate requires that it has to be produced in the manner in which it is required to be produced namely

“identifying the electronic Documents rendered in the computer output”,

“Indicating the process by which the computer output was produced”,

“Providing certain warranties on the production of the Computer output” and

then considering the “Computer Output” as “Admissible Evidence” without the need for producing the original.

In this process the Certifier is stating that when he followed a certain protocol which is indicated in the certificate, he was able to view the electronic document in the form in which it has been presented in the computer output and he is responsible for the faithful reproduction of what he himself saw or heard into the format in which he has rendered the computer output.

I wish all eminent jurists including the Judges of Supreme Court go through the above multiple number of times to appreciate why I have been stating that Section 65B certificate can be produced by any third party (subject to a level of credibility) who has viewed the document and not necessarily the administrator of the device (as wrongly indicated in the SLP order in the case of Shafhi Mohammad).

This also underscores my view that in the case of electronic document, we always deal with the “Secondary Document” which  is a rendition of the original etching of the binary sequence and humans are incapable of viewing the “Original” which is a binary expression mixed up with the viewing protocol. We should stop comparing the “Computer Output” under Section 65B with a photocopy of a paper document and talk as if both are same.

Quantum Computing Era

Now, let us turn our attention to the main object of starting this post which was to look at Section 65B in the context of the emerging technologies such as “Quantum Computing”.

The legal professionals may find the earlier paragraphs hard enough to digest and may not have the stomach to start debating what would be Section 65B interpretation in the Quantum Computing era. May be this is too early to discuss the Cyber Law requirements for the emerging technologies since even scientists have tried to start understanding Quantum Computing only now.

But a “Futuristic Cyber Law Specialist” (whom we may also call “Quantum Cyber Law Specialist” or a “Futuristic Techno Legal Specialist”),  needs to tread a path which no body else has tread and therefore we shall continue our exploration.

We must realize that Quantum Computers are expected to work along with Classical computers and hence the current concepts of data storage in bits with “0 or 1” state may not vanish with the advent of Qubits with “0 and 1”. But data may be processed in an “Artificial Intelligence Environment” using “Quantum Computing” and presented in a classical computing environment.

In view of the above, Quantum computing will be part of the process but the  human interaction with the electronic document which will be certified as a computer output in a Section 65B certificate would be in a classical computer.

Additionally, “Quantum Computing” may sit in between two classical computing scenarios. For example, data may be captured by a classical computing system and become part of the “Big Data” which is processed by a Quantum Computing system and results rendered back in Classical computing environment.

Though the journey of the “Electronic Evidence” from birth as the “Original binary impressions on the first classical computing device passes through the “Worm-hole like” quantum computing environment, it comes back into the Classical computing environment when the Sec 65B certifier views it and converts it into a Computer output.

I therefore consider that Section 65B certification interpretation of Naavi will survive the Quantum Computing age. Lawyers may however raise certain forensic doubts regarding the reliability of an electronic document certified under the Section 65B and Forensic witnesses under Section 79A may need to answer them to the satisfaction of the Court.

However Section 65B certification being a matter of fact certification of what is viewed as a Computer output in the classical computer of the observer will not be vitiated by the complexities of the processes that go behind the scene.

Courts should understand that they are not entitled to confront the Section 65B certifier to a cross examination on the reliability of the back end processing systems as long as they are the standards the industry of computing adopts as technology.

I look forward to views from both my legal and technology friends regarding the above.

Naavi

Cyber Laws have been in discussion in India since around 1998 when the first draft was published. After the passage of Information Technology Act 2000, the laws came into existence and started affecting every one of our activities on computer including personal activities such as E Mails, Web activities, Mobile phone communication, etc as well as commercial activities such as  E banking, E Commerce, E Governance etc.

However after 20 years since the draft E Commerce Act 1998 was released by the Government of India, our Courts and Police as also the Lawyers are still struggling to understand and interpret the law. We therefore have difficulties in understanding Section 65B certification of electronic evidence, the legal implication of digital and e-sign, understanding certain crimes such as hacking,  the man in the browser attacks, Viruses, Trojans etc.

Indian judicial system however being an adversarial system, is capable of absorbing inadequate understanding and interpretation of law since the responsibility of the judge is to interpret evidence and arguments as presented by the parties. . At higher levels, Judiciary is comfortable with a state of inconsistency so that every judge takes his own decision based on what he understands of the law and leaves it to the higher judicial authority to correct mistakes if required.

This means, Garbage in Garbage out principle is applicable for our Judicial verdicts. This is acceptable to the Judicial system. But should it be also acceptable to the victims of bad judgements?…a point to ponder

In some strange way, being a country where citizens are tolerant of inefficiency and corruption in all affairs of the Government, Police and Judiciary, we simply shrug off a bad decision and move on.

But one thought comes across my mind when we observe some of the latest developments in technology around us.

First is the advent of  Big Data, Data Analytics, IoT, Artificial intelligence etc which are common discussion points today in the IT industry. We have been discussing what happens to the concept of “Privacy” when “Aadhar” is used as an Universal ID as if it is the biggest challenge before humanity. Silently however, Artificial Intelligence and humanoid robots have made their appearance which will create many new challenges to the Cyber Law makers and Cyber Law interpreters.

Some of the challenges in application of Cyber Law to the current technological developments have manifested in the domain of Banking and Finance. The debate on Block Chain technology Bitcoins, etc are issues that have presented the complications that the new technologies may be creating in the economic world. If a simple negligence in technology implementation in Banking such as not linking SWIFT messaging system to the CBS system, and providing access without robust security  in Banks can give raise to frauds worth thousand of crores and destabilize our economy and stock markets, we can imagine what kinds of upheavals may be caused in the society when the new technology developments such as Artifical Intelligence and humanoid robots take over key decision making process in say our Governance and Military operations.

Parellelly the manufacturing industry is also transforming itself into the Industry 4.0 state where Cyber Physical systems take over manufacturing processes with Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics supporting the back end decision making process. The manufacturing industry is much less Cyber Law aware than the Banking and IT industry and hence the legal implications of frauds as well as the probability of frauds and crimes occurring in the manufacturing sector is much higher than in the Banking and IT industries.

I therefore anticipate a higher level of problems in the Manufacturing industry in India when the IT professionals try to push through “Disruptive Innovations” unmindful of the “Destructive Impact” on the society.

The Information Security focus therefore needs to be re-directed to address the requirements of the manufacturing industry even while we tackle the issues in the IT and Banking/Finance domains.

The fact that even after 20 years of introduction of Cyber Laws in India, our Legal and Judicial system is yet to understand the law and implement it in a consistent manner makes me wonder, how the Cyber law creators and Cyber Law interpreters would react when the new developments such as “Quantum Computing” becomes a reality.

A few month’s back, I remember that one technologist did ask me in a meeting if Indian Cyber Law is ready to face the challenges posed by Quantum Computing. Though I did state that a “Proper Interpretation” of the current laws could help us interpret the laws whether the information is processed in a classic computer system where data is stored in “Binary” language or in Qubits where the data is stored or processed differently, considering the inability of the system to understand even the current system of laws, it appears as if my optimism may perhaps be misplaced.

For those who struggle to interpret an electronic document created as a sequence of binary interpretation of the state of a transistor, it would almost be impossible to even imagine that a “Transistor” will now be replaced by a “Quantum Energy State” which can take the uncertain  value  of one or zero or both. In such a situation if a hacker has manipulated the back end process and generated a fraudulent output, how do we recognize the “Unauthorized Manipulation of data”, “how do we produce forensic evidence of the manipulation” etc will be a challenge that is not easy to solve.

Add to this “Super positioning” prospect in Quantum computing to the “Entanglement” concept where two states of a data holder can be in physically separated but the state of one could be modified by changing the other, the problem becomes more fuzzy.

If nothing else is certain, the quantum increase in the computing powers of the future generation of computers (working as back end systems driven by quantum computing processing) would need a change in our perception of “Probability of a Cryptographic key being broken”. If the current key strengths become unreliable, we may need to re-think on many of the concepts of information security and make corresponding changes in out laws.

Even today, the Criminal Jurisprudence principle that all evidence should be “Proved  beyond Reasonable Doubt” poses huge challenges when applied to Electronic Evidence. In the Quantum computing era, such issues would be even more challenging.

If therefore we want to upgrade our Cyber Laws from the current state of Cyber Law 1.0 to the era of Artificial intelligence which could be Cyber Law 2.0 and subsequently to the era of  Quantum Computing which could be called Cyber Law 3.0, then our Cyber Law makers need to start acting today in understanding the problems that the new technologies will pose to our Judges who are now in the very initial stages of appreciating the current version of Cyber Law.

Will the Government understand the challenge that the emerging technology in Computer software and hardware will pose?… if so…. when? ….is the question that remains unanswered in my mind.

I welcome the view of the readers… if any

Naavi

The SLP order of the Supreme Court in the case of Shafhi Mohammad Vs State of Himachal Pradesh dated 30th January 2018 in which a two member bench of the Court passed an order which was clearly meant to over rule an earlier three member Judgement of the Basheer Case as regards the applicability of Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act is now having its adverse impact on the system of judiciary in India.

The SLP order was delivered by  the two judges namely Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Seniority order 11) and Uday Umesh Lalit (Seniority order 15).

This order was conspicuously rebellious  over ruling the earlier judgement passed by three judges namely  Justices RM. Lodha (Then CJI now retired) Kurian Joseph(Seniority order 5) and Normally when a Judge has a different opinion from an earlier judgement Rohinton Fali Nariman (Seniority order 12).

Normally, when a Judge has a difference of opinion with the earlier order of a superior court, the option available to him is to make a reference back to a comparatively bigger bench and seek a review. This is an established convention. It was diligently followed in the Aadhaar case when the question of “Whether Privacy is a Fundamental Right in our constitution or not” came up with a smaller bench which felt that an earlier 5 member bench had a view which could be reviewed. Accordingly the matter was considered by a 9 member bench which gave its clarification after which the earlier bench resumed its hearing.

This process was not followed by the A.K. Goel-U.U.Lalit  bench which preferred to pass its clarification order in derogation of the order of the earlier three member bench. Though there was the next hearing on 13th February 2018, the bench simply continued with other matters and left its earlier order on Section 65B  remain on paper though its validity is questionable.

We consider that the order was erroneous, is amenable to be misused and would open doors of corruption in Judiciary.

It is also infructuous being an order of a smaller bench.

But by not reviewing the order in the next available opportunity the two member bench has shown disregard to the conventions and cyber jurisprudence.

It is necessary for the CJI to take note of this development and if he allows such breaking of conventions go unquestioned, it will be spreading like cancer in the Supreme Court and through out the judicial system.

Some time back we had the Justice Karnan episode where he challenged the Supreme Court and was later convicted for Contempt of Court.

But the current CJI did not take similar contempt action against the four judges who held a press conference. Now if CJI continues to remain quiet without acting against the breaking of convention by the AK Goel-UU Lalit bench,  every judge will ignore every other judgement of a bigger bench and turn  Jurisprudence upside down.

If a lower bench of Supreme Court can over rule a higher bench, a lower court can also over rule a higher Court. We will see chaos and anarchy spreading through the system if proper measures are not initiated by CJI now.

Such a situation will give a free hand for corruption to decide which order of a superior court will be followed as a precedence and which will be ignored under the special precedent set by the AK Goel-UU Lalit bench.

The Order of this bench to turn Jurisprudence upside down is completely illogical and indicates that this could be part of a rebellion developing inside the Supreme Court.

CJI needs to take note and take corrective action. Silence will not be a solution and it may be too late to correct the situation if more such decisions contemptuous of the higher benches can be allowed to be taken.

In the meantime, if any situation arises in Courts where there is an attempt to accept electronic evidence with Section 65B certification on the basis of the SLP order, it has to be challenged first with a request for review, if necessary supported with an expert counter opinion, failing which with an appeal to a higher court specifically on this issue.

It is regrettable that Supreme Court judges are creating anarchy in the system by not being consistent with their commitment to delivery of justice and the poison seeded by the four rebellious judges seems to be having its effect in destroying the revered system. I hope the fear is misplaced and things will turn out well with the bench in its next hearing on 7th march 2018, issuing a clarification that they are not over ruling the earlier judgement.

If the Amicus Curie is unable to find a solution to a practically permissible and legally acceptable solution to the problem on hand (Evidence to be presented by the Police from the crime scene videography), it is necessary for the Court to hold a larger consultation with other experts before passing further orders.

Naavi

During the last week, Bengaluru witnessed a disturbing display of lawlessness by a group led by a son of a Congress MLA. The case involved a brawl in a Pub called “Farzi Cafe” in UB City in which another person was beaten to near death by the group.

Similarly there was another incident of VIP misbehaviour of another Congress worker sprinkling petrol and threatening destruction of a BBMP office also in the same week.

While the discussion on the incidents is outside the scope of this website, I would like to only discuss the role of “Digital Evidence” that plays an important part in both these incidents.

In both the incidents, there is video evidence and in one case the offence is an “Attempt to Murder” and in the other case it is “Threatening to commit arson and destruction of Government property”.  Both are very serious offences and requires a fair trial in a Court. The evidence available would therefore be very important.

But there are unconfirmed media reports indicating that since the offenders in both cases relate to the ruling party, the Police are favouring the accused and are unlikely to pursue the case properly. In the process, there will be a possibility of destruction or manipulation of the digital evidence which is in the form of CCTV footages.

The Video in the case of threat to burn BBMP office has already gone viral and is now in the public space. Courts can take cognizance of the incident even if the Police try to suppress it.

But in the incident related to the brawl in the Pub,  there are two videos one from the Farzi Cafe where the brawl first took place and the other from Mallya Hospital where the accused tried to break in perhaps to cause further hurt to the victim. Initial media reports suggest that the Farzi cafe Video has already been tampered with by the Police and will only show the victim slapping the accused and not the earlier first attack by the accused.

If the report is true, it is expected that the case will eventually not get proved in a Court of law and will be dismissed for lack of evidence. Worse still, the victim himself may be punished for attacking a respectable person who is the present accused and provoking him.

The incident highlights the importance of protecting the digital evidence which is extremely useful in such cases with CCTV cameras spread across the city and in most public establishments. Recently, Bangalore Police solved a case of harassment of a lady in the middle of the night only through the CCTV footage that was available.

But if CCTV footages become only tools of manipulation where at the discretion of the Police it would be used in certain cases and in certain other cases it would simply vanish, then the question of accountability for such CCTVs arise.

There is already an argument that installation of CCTV cameras is a threat to the Privacy of Citizens. This will only gets strengthened. The defence that it helps in “Security” falls flat because of the frequent misuse of the CCTV footage by the law enforcement to suit their political objectives.

I therefore request the Bangalore Police to make public the entire unedited version of the Farzi Cafe incident to the public in the interest of transparency in public life. The Court should also direct for such a disclosure.

I believe that Farzi Cafe owners would be having a copy of the video and unless they want to be called for taking sides in the dispute, should go public with the copy of the video in their hands. Since this Video would be relevant not only to the accused but also to the victim as well as other people who would be in the Cafe at the time of the incident, there is a “Public Interest” in the disclosure and Courts can order for the disclosure.

While some body who has the courage to face the wrath of Congress Government in Karnataka can take up the issue as a public interest litigation, the Courts also can take suo moto action if they consider the matter to be of consequence.

If however Farzi Cafe owners have deleted the evidence then they would be liable for prosecution under Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 and Section 204 of IPC for destruction of evidence. If manipulation of evidence has taken place after the Police took charge of the evidence, similar charge can be made on the police personnel also. Probably the Karnataka Human Rights Commission has the jurisdiction to investigate the matter.

It would be interesting to see how the case proceeds from here and what lessons the police and organizations like Farzi Cafe will take from the current incident on handling of CCTV footages which become “Potential Evidence” in criminal cases.

Our discussion would be incomplete without also highlighting why the recent decision on an SLP by the Supreme Court in the case of Shafhi Mohammad  was called by us as an “Recipie for Corruption…” If the order is to be accepted, then the CCTV footage which the Police will produce may be argued as acceptable as evidence without a Section 65B certificate. If the decision in the Basheer case is followed at least there will be one person who will look into the evidence and certify and while doing so will consider if the evidence is trustworthy or not. This important element of check on fraudulent production of digital evidence for admission would be removed if the Safhi Mohammad decision is to be considered as valid. Fortunately this is a two member order on an SLP where as the Basheer judgement is a three member judgement and hence it would prevail.

Naavi

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