Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that a document means any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks, or by more than one of those means, intended to be used or which may be used for the purpose of recording that matter. Some illustrations for documents include a writing, words printed, lithographed or photographed, a map or plan is a document, an inscription on a metal plate or stone is a document and a caricature is a document. As far as evidence under the aforesaid section is concerned, it now even includes electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court. Further, Section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 lays down an accused’s right to obtain a copy of the police report, an FIR, confession and statements recorded, documents etc. An accused may be denied their right to obtain a copy of the documents in case the document is voluminous, but even in this case the accused has a right to inspect such a document either personally or through his/her pleader.
Major changes in information technology over the last couple of decades have made the collection and analysis of digital evidence a progressively imperative tool for solving crimes and preparing court cases. As technology has become more transferrable and prevailing, greater volumes of data are now being created, stored, and accessed. Modern devices can serve as huge repositories of personal information yet be carried in a pocket and accessed with a single hand or even voice command. The benefits of easily stored information is evident yet it the need to maintain a balance between acquiring and storing data and, privacy concerns needs to be maintained.
Recognising this sensitive aspect of digital information, the everchanging and dynamic field of crime centric documents and the need for acknowledging the necessity of keeping up with the technological advancements as far as documentary evidence is concerned, the court in the famous case of P. Gopalkrishna @Dileep v. State of Kerala and anr. held that the contents of a memory card in relation to a crime amount to a ‘document’ and not a ‘material object’. The SC bench comprising Justices A.M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheswari overturned the view taken by the High Court Kerala that the memory card was a material object, and hence it will not come under the ambit of section 207. It further stated that the basis of classifying an article as a document depends upon the information which is inscribed and not on where it is inscribed and it is hence, vital to concentrate on the information in the memory card and not the fact that is in the memory card.
The court observed that:
“we must hold that the video footage/ clipping contained in such memory card/pen-drive being an electronic record as envisaged by Section 2(1)(t) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, is a document and cannot be regarded as a material object.”
The Indian Judiciary time and again has taken steps to keep with the growing changes and need of the society and this is one such example of their dynamism.
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