The manual of the Central Bureau of Investigation needs to be updated, the Supreme Court observed on Monday, reported Live Law. The court was hearing a plea seeking directions to law enforcement agencies to specify guidelines on seizure, examination and preservation of digital and electronic devices and their contents.

“The world has changed, the CBI must also change,” commented Justice SK Kaul, who is part of a bench that also comprises Justice AS Oka.

At Monday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, told the court that the CBI manual has been kept in a sealed cover and is not accessible.

“Any procedure that is meant to protect the citizen cannot be lying in a sealed cover in an office,” she submitted. “What the CBI procedure says we don’t know.”

Ramakrishnan argued that other agencies constantly update their manuals to deal with the challenges to privacy.

In response, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju said that the manual is available on the internet. To this, the court asked him why the manual has kept in a sealed cover if it is publicly accessible.

“There is some resistance from the department,” Raju replied.

The matter will now be listed after February 7, the judges said.

The petition

The petition has been filed by five academics – Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ram Ramaswamy, Savitribai Phule Pune University professor Sujata Patel, professor of Cultural Studies at Hyderabad’s English and Foreign Languages University Madhava Prasad, professor of Modern Indian history at Jamia Millia Islamia Mukul Kesavan and theoretical ecological economist Deepak Malghan.

The petitioners have sought directions to the investigating agencies and the police, including seeking permission from a judicial magistrate before accessing or seizing electronic devices and specifying how the material is relevant or linked to the alleged offence.

In the case of urgent seizures, the petition submitted that reasons for not seeking permission should be provided to the owner of the device in writing. The owner of the electronic device should not be forced to reveal passwords, ideally, a copy of the hard drive should be taken and not the original, and the hard disks must be examined in the presence of the owner of the device.

The plea also mentioned that several persons from whom devices have been seized in alleged offences registered in the recent past belong to the academic field or are noted authors.

“The academic community does and stores its research and writing in the electronic or digital medium, and the threat of damage, distortion, loss or premature exposure of academic or literary work in the event of seizure of electronic devices is considerable,” the petition added.

In November, the Centre had said in an affidavit that right to privacy is not absolute and can be subjected to restrictions. It had argued that any blanket order regarding the return of digital and electronic devices of a person under investigation would be inappropriate