Brain Fingerprinting Technology
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing the alleged gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras of Uttar Pradesh, has brought all the four accused in the case from Aligarh jail to the Foreinsic Science Laboratory (FSL) lab in Gandhinagar for brain mapping and polygraph tests.
The brain fingerprinting technique was actually first developed and patented in 1995 by Lawrence A. Farwell of the U.S.A. Police in India have used brain fingerprinting since 2003.
This technology is being increasingly put to use, as a matter of fact, it is often seen playing a part in separating the guilty from the innocent.
Police Officers believe that it assists an overworked police force to amplify their evidence and expedite the often tortuously drawn-out process of conviction.
What is Brain Fingerprinting?
In brain fingerprinting, a headset with two electrodes is put on the head of the suspect. One electrode is placed on the forehead between the eyebrows while the other is put on the back of the head where the brain stores experiential memory.
The electrodes are connected to a laptop with brain fingerprinting software via Bluetooth.
Details and photographs of the crime scene which are not in public domain are projected on the screen in front of the suspect.
If the suspect is involved in the crime the moment he sees the details, his brain recognises the picture and sends a specific, measurable brain response known as a P300 to the software.
This movement is called P 300 MERMER (“Memory and Encoding Related Multifaceted Electroencephalographic Response”), which is captured on the computer.
The P300 is not the only brainwave used by brain fingerprinting technologies.
In 1997, Indian neuroscientist Champadi Raman Mukundan developed a different technique called the Brain Electrical Oscillatory Signature (Beos) test, which measures the recall of memory through a smorgasbord of subtle changes in brain activity data.
What is the BEOSP test?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the BEOSP (or the BEOS) is an electroencephalogram (EEG) technique by which a suspect's participation in a crime is detected by eliciting electrophysiological impulses.
The technique, also referred to as 'brain fingerprinting', has been categorised as "non-invasive" and a legitimate neuro-psychological method of interrogation.
The methodology was developed by CR Mukundan, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences at Bangalore.
Other important tests
These tests, which are often used as aid during investigations by probe agencies, are different from each other, but are all aimed at collecting vital information.
Narco-analysis is a controlled administration of intravenous hypnotic medications called truth drugs on a suspect to procure vital information.
A polygraph, popularly referred to as a lie detector, is an instrument that measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and breathing rhythms and skin conductivity while a suspect is asked a series of questions.
Deceptive answers are said to produce physiological responses that can be differentiated from those associated with non-deceptive answers.
Application of the technique
Brain fingerprinting can help in addressing the following critical elements in the fight against terrorism:
Aid in determining who has participated in terrorist acts, directly or indirectly.
Aid in identifying trained terrorists with the potential to commit future terrorist acts, even if they are in a “sleeper” cell and have not been active for years.
Help to identify people who have knowledge or training in banking, finance or communications and who are associated with terrorist teams and acts.
Help to determine if an individual is in a leadership role within a terrorist organization.
Is it admissible in Court?
The results of the brain fingerprinting test may not be admissible in the Indian courts, but the technique helps investigative agencies find clues in complicated cases.
SC on Forensics
In May 2010, the Supreme Court held that forcing suspects and witnesses to take these tests without their consent was unconstitutional and amounted to violation of their right to privacy.
A three-judge bench had held that “the compulsory administration of the impugned techniques violates the right against self-incrimination.”
The court noted that the compulsory administration of the techniques violated “the right against self-incrimination … unjustified intrusion into mental privacy, and amount[ed] to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
However, the Supreme Court did not question the relevance of the techniques themselves, and permitted their use if the accused consented to be tested.
How is it different from the 'lie detector' or the polygraph test?
A BEOSP procedure ideally requires no question-answer session to be conducted during the test, as opposed to the polygraph "lie detector" test that maps physiological outputs of the individual in question - like perspiration, blood pressure, pulse rate, and pupil response.
In the BEOSP test, the individual is simply presented with the crime events/scenarios, following which the subject's brain is analysed to verify if the encoded information is stored as experiential knowledge, which would mean that the subjects had experienced the sequence of events first-hand and not absorbed them as a secondary source during the recounting.
This way, experts say, the results are more credible since it is difficult to tamper with neuroscientific mappings as opposed to physiological responses which can be controlled and even potentially be faked with enough training of the mind.
Does it violate human rights?
Brain fingerprinting being a non invasive forensic technique uses electroencephalography (EEG) to determine whether information about the crime is stored in the subject's brain, it does not violate human rights as the suspect takes the test in the comfort of an air-conditioned room sitting in front of a computer where no third degree is ever necessary.
Brain fingerprinting is a cool tool which can go a long way in enhancing police image by diminishing police brutality and torture during the investigation with a concomitant reduction in custodial deaths.
Tamil Nadu is yet to acquire brain fingerprinting technology. States like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat etc have installed brain fingerprinting technology for police investigation purposes.
What are the limitations of the technology?
Brain fingerprinting detects information-processing brain responses that reveal what information is stored in the subject’s brain. It does not detect how that information got there, be it a witness or a perpetrator.
Brain fingerprinting detects only information, and not intent.
Brain fingerprinting is not applicable for general screening.
Brain fingerprinting does not detect lies. It simply detects information.
Just as all witness testimony depends on the memory of the witness, brain fingerprinting depends on the memory of the subject.
Like all forensic science techniques, brain fingerprinting depends on the evidence-gathering process which lies outside the realm of science to provide the evidence to be scientifically tested.
Brain fingerprinting is not a substitute for effective investigation on the part of the investigator or for common sense and good judgment on the part of the judge and jury.
Today, Brain fingerprinting is not only a great investigation method but also serves in medical and other fields. Brain fingerprinting could provide some valuable information in the higher rates of criminal cases and also the higher rates of complexities of the cases. In the coming times, brain fingerprinting is expected to hold an important part in justice and defense, adding to the growth of regional market.