The Delhi High Court on Friday said that the Income Tax Department should ensure that journalist Abhinandan Sekhri’s private data obtained during raids at Newslaundry’s office last week is not leaked, PTI reported. Sekhri is the co-founder of the media organisation.
Around seven officials of the Income Tax department had visited Newslaundry’s office in Sarvodaya Enclave in South Delhi at 11.45 am on September 10. The operation aimed to verify tax payment details and remittances made by the organisations, officials said.
A bench of Justices Manmohan and Navin Chawla also gave time to the department’s counsel to seek instructions on giving an undertaking against any leak and asked the officer concerned to join the hearings on September 21.
“Ask your client [to join proceedings] so that we can close it then and there,” the court told the lawyer representing the agency. “Let him be by your side.... If he gives a statement, we can put a quietus to the matter.”
The IT department’s counsel said that the data of thousands of people was in safe custody and it can be used only according to the law.
Senior counsel Siddharth Dave, representing petitioner Sekhri, said that four notices had been issued under the Income Tax Act and a survey was conducted on September 10. The lawyer also noted that several electronic devices, including a mobile phone and a laptop had been seized by the authorities.
The petitioner’s counsel also argued that devices that contained no information relevant to any income tax proceedings had also been seized. The lawyer said that this data could also contain personal photos and information related to investigative stories, according to PTI.
During the hearing, the judges said that the agency should not leak anyone’s data.
“This case is only different because the press is on the other side,” the bench said, according to The Indian Express. “Normally nobody’s data should be leaked. It’s contrary to public interest. It’s ethically, morally wrong. We have seen it on channels, people’s data that’s been seized is openly being displayed, that should not happen.”
Sekhri also argued that his right to privacy had been violated and the 300GB of private data that had been downloaded from his devices should be deleted, according to The Indian Express.
The journalist also said that it was not within the ambit of the IT survey to collect private data from his devices.
“I am worried about the leaking of the data and worried about the use of the data in any manner,” Sekhri told the court.