A balance between search and seizure powers and individual privacy rights are the cornerstone of a fair and just society in the criminal justice system that must be maintained, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said on Monday, Live Law reported.

The central agencies need to uphold due process while ensuring their effective functioning, Chandrachud said while speaking at an event organised by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“Instances of raids conducted and incidents of unwarranted confiscation of personal devices highlight the pressing need to strike a balance between investigative imperatives and individual privacy rights,” he said.

The chief justice said that the Central Bureau of Investigation’s manual provides guidelines to the agency on how to conduct search and seizure of electronic devices to safeguard it from manipulation.

“The CBI Manual mandates the provision of hash values for confiscated digital devices like mobile phones and laptops during investigations,” he said. “Hash values, akin to electronic fingerprints, are generated under the Information Technology Act to safeguard the integrity of seized electronic devices.”

A hash value is a unique number used to ensure that a device and its data have not been tampered with.

In November, the Supreme Court had stressed the need for the Union government to put in place guidelines for the search and seizure of media persons’ digital devices.

In January, the Supreme Court asked the Delhi Police, Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to respond to a petition by news website NewsClick seeking guidelines on the search and seizure of electronic devices.

On Monday, Chandrachud also urged investigative agencies to focus on probing crimes concerning national security and economic offences against the nation, Bar and Bench reported.

“I think we have spread out our premier investigative agencies too thin,” Chandrachud said. “They must only focus on those crimes that concern national security, and crimes of economic offences against the nation.”

The chief justice also said that there is a need for speedy disposal of cases that are under the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“The accused are charged with serious violations of the law, and their life and reputation are altered and hurt,” he said. “Delays become an impediment in justice delivery. A multi-pronged strategy is needed to tackle slow disposal of CBI cases so that their pendency does not translate to guilt.”

The comments come as several Opposition leaders have accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of weaponising central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to pressurise them.

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