Giving voice sample to police does not violate privacy, rules top court

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. File

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. File

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court on Friday held that a judicial magistrate is empowered to order a person to give a sample of his voice for the purpose of investigation.

A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said directing a person to part with his voice sample to police was not a violation of his fundamental right to privacy.

The judgment authored by Chief Justice Gogoi said “the fundamental right to privacy cannot be construed as absolute and must bow down to compelling public interest”.

The Bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, held that giving voice sample to an investigating agency was not a violation of the fundamental right against self-incrimination. Article 20 (3) of the Constitution mandated that “no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.

Chief Justice Gogoi, writing for the Bench, said giving voice sample by a person did not amount to furnishing of evidence against oneself. He reasoned that a voice sample was given for the reason of comparison with other voices in order to see if they matched and were of the same person. A voice sample by itself is not incriminating evidence.

The Chief Justice compared a voice sample with other impressions like specimen handwriting, or impressions of his fingers, palm or foot collected by police during investigation.

“By themselves, these impressions or the handwriting do not incriminate the accused person, or even tend to do so,” the judgment reasoned.

Thus, the court said a voice sample by itself did not incriminate a person, and hence, a judicial order to give a such a sample did not infringe the fundamental rights to privacy or against self-incrimination.

The 87th Report of the Law Commission of India in 1980 describes a voice print as a “visual recording of voice”. Voiceprints resemble fingerprints, in that each person has a distinctive voice with characteristic features dictated by vocal cavities and articulates.

The court dismissed an argument that the making of such far-reaching interpretations in the Criminal Procedure Code – which is silent on whether a court can order a person to give voice sample to police – should be best left to the legislature.

“Constitutional courts must be guided by contemporaneous realities/existing realities on the ground. Judicial power should not be allowed to be entrapped within inflexible parameters or guided by rigid principles,” the court justified its verdict.

The judgment came in an appeal filed by Ritesh Sinha against a 2010 order of a magistrate court in Uttar Pradesh allowing police to get his voice sample. The police wanted to compare the voice sample with his alleged telephone conversations with his co-accused.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2022 1:20:26 am |