The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Central government should put in place guidelines for the search and seizure of media persons’ digital devices, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia was hearing a public interest litigation by the Foundation for Media Professionals. The foundation has urged the court to establish safeguards against unreasonable interference by law enforcement agencies.
“There are hundreds of journalists whose digital devices are taken away en masse,” senior advocate Siddharth Agarwal, appearing for the petitioner, told the court. “The issues raised in this petition are very significant because there are no guidelines regarding when and what may be seized, what can be accessed, what kind of protection is ensured for personal data, health data, financial data.”
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju said that investigating agencies cannot be shut out from examining such devices as they have to go through the data to find the relevant portion.
Justice Kaul, however, said that the practice could be “very dangerous”.
“You must have better guidelines,” he said. “If you want us to do it, we will 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 cannot be a state that is run only through its agencies.”
In October, a sessions court in Delhi had said that the seizure of electronic devices impinges upon the journalists’ fundamental rights of freedom of profession, speech and expression. This came as the court upheld the release of the electronic devices that the police had seized from the editors of The Wire last year.
In the wake of Delhi Police raids on several journalists associated with NewsClick on October 3, eighteen press bodies had written to Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, raising concerns about confiscation of mobile phones and computers of journalists without ensuring the integrity of their data.
The press bodies said that a method needs to be devised against police overreach, given “the repeated misuse of these powers”. It noted that under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, journalists can spend months, if not years, in jail before they get bail.
“Our fear is that state actions against the media have been taken beyond measure, and should they be allowed to continue in the direction they are headed, it may be too late for corrective or remedial steps,” the letter read. “It is, therefore, our collective view that the Higher Judiciary must now intervene to put an end to the increasingly repressive use of investigating agencies against the media.”