Today, the Supreme Court (SC) while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals in connection with the arbitrary seizure of media professional’s digital devices said that there is a need for guidelines to protect their interests. The matter was heard by a two-judge bench of the SC constituting Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia. The SC pointed out that there could have confidential information on media professional’s devices, “See these are media professionals, they will have on their phone sources, and contacts. So there must be some guidelines. This is serious.” The PIL was filed through Advocate-on-Record Rahul Narayan urging to establish safeguards against law enforcement agencies' unreasonable interference and create comprehensive guidelines in connection with the search and seizure of digital devices.
During the court proceedings, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju and Senior Advocate Siddharth Agarwal exchanged their views regarding the same. SA Agarwal said “There are hundreds of journals whose digital devices are taken away en masse. The issues raised in this petition are very significant because there are no guidelines with reference to when and what may be seized, what can be accessed, what kind of protection is ensured for personal data, health data, financial data…The entire digital footprint is on that one device. Once an investigating agency is involved, it’s not like the person can have a back-up…” Further, ASG said that there were provisions that allowed individuals, whose digital devices have been seized, to backup data. Hearing this, Justice Kaul stressed the importance of guidelines terming it a serious matter.
Despite this, ASG insisted “You cannot shut out the investigating agency completely and totally. Their prayer is to do just this.” Justice Kaul replied, “Mr. Raju, I’m finding it very difficult to accept some kind of all-within power that the agencies have…This is very dangerous. You must have better guidelines. If you want us to do it, we’ll do it. But my view is that you ought to do it yourself. It’s time that you ensure that this is not misused. It can’t be a State that’s run only through its agencies. We’ll give you time, no difficulty. But you must analyze what kind of guidelines are necessary to protect them. To some extent, this is not adversarial in that sense.”
After a brief courtroom exchange on the issue, Justice Kaul pronounced, “Learned additional solicitor general requests for some time to better examine the matter so that he can make submissions. We have however put to the learned ASG that there has to be a balancing of interests and proper guidelines need to be in place to protect the interest of media professionals. We would like the learned ASG to work on this and come back on the issue. This is more so in the view of the aspect that privacy is held to be a fundamental right.” The SC bench further listed the matter for hearing on December 06, 2023 (Wednesday).