Gandhinagar/New Delhi: One of the authors of this piece is sitting in a chair with brown upholstery, in the middle of a small, unremarkable room in an equally unremarkable building in Gandinagar.

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There is what looks like a television in front of him, a tight cap with electrodes is constricting his skull, and there are more electrodes on his face to record every twitch of the skin and movement of the eye.

This equipment in the Directorate of Forensic Science (DFS) in Gandhinagar has helped put many a criminal behind bars. And now, the Supreme Court has ruled that its use is unconstitutional without the consent of the subject.

Questions surrounding the use of technologies such as narco analysis (where answers are obtained after putting subjects in a chemically induced stupor) and brain mapping are becoming more relevant with little public knowledge of the methods involved, even though investigative agencies increasingly rely on these techniques.

Methods such as the brain electrical oscillation signature (BEOS) and another American technique called brain fingerprinting have traditionally polarized both academic and legal circles, although in India, investigations refer to them with the utmost awe—of the sort that is usually reserved for absolute truth.

The apex court’s order on Wednesday has stopped short the march of such techniques in India—but only just. The order may have been prompted by issues related to individual rights, but some neuro-psychologists and other experts insist that not enough is known about the brain and how it stores and processes memory to allow the use of these technologies to convict people. They point to the fact that BEOS, which is in use in Gujarat and Mumbai, has not been peer-reviewed. A Union government panel in 2008 studied the method and ruled that it was “unscientific" and unfit for use in forensic applications, say panel members.

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