The Centre needs to follow a timeframe for putting in place guidelines for the search and seizure of mediapersons’ digital devices, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday, according to Bar and Bench.

The court was hearing two public interest litigations seeking directions to set up mechanisms in this matter that investigative agencies need to follow. One of the petitions has been filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals, while the other one has been filed by a group of academicians and researchers.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju on Wednesday told a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia that a committee has been set up, and the Centre would need more time to frame the guidelines.

Justice Kaul, however, noted that two years had passed since the petition was filed and questioned the Centre’s delay in formulating the guidelines.

“When did we issue notice?” the judge asked. “Some timeframe has to be followed. Two years have passed, Mr Raju!”

Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for petitioners, said that investigative agencies could not seize devices and keep them in their custody indefinitely, The Hindu reported.

“This is an immediate issue,” Ramakrishnan remarked. “Some 300 devices have been seized from around 90 journalists… How will you feel if someone comes to your house and seizes and reads your letters… This is a complete assault on journalistic freedom.”

The Supreme Court posted the case for further hearing on December 14.

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 that their data is protected from misuse.

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.”