The development gains significance in light of the crackdown on media such as Newsclick and the letter written by several journalists groups to the Chief Justice of India against it.
ON Tuesday, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court batted for having guidelines in place to govern the search and seizure of phones or other digital devices belonging to media personnel.
The Bench, which comprised Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia stressed the need to have better guidelines in place to protect the interest of journalists as their devices could have confidential information or details about their sources.
Terming the matter “serious”, the Bench directed the Union government to look into the matter in a month in order to have guidelines on search and seizure.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S.V. Raju sought to submit that law enforcement agencies could not be barred from examining such devices adding that media could not be above the law.
The Bench was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals seeking guidelines to be put in place for the search and seizure of digital devices by law enforcement agencies.
Last year, while hearing a similar petition filed by renowned academics Ram Ramaswamy, Sujata Patel, M. Madhava Prasad, Mukul Kesavan and Deepak Malghan, the Supreme Court had expressed dissatisfaction with the Union government’s reply in response to their petition seeking suitable guidelines to investigative agencies regarding the seizure, examination, and preservation of digital and electronic devices and their contents.
The court had said that the government had questioned the maintainability of the petition, but that was not enough. The court had then directed the government to file a detailed affidavit duly referring to international practices with regard to search and seizure and preservation of digital and electronic devices.
It had added that a decision at the appropriate level by the Union government ought to be taken so that a proper stand of the government is presented before the court.
Today’s development gains significance in the context ofevents that took place in October this year.
A special cell of the Delhi police conducted raids on offices and residences of journalists, commentators and activists connected with the online news portal Newsclick.
The raids were conducted in more than 30 locations in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, where journalists and contributors were questioned and their electronic devices seized.
Subsequently, several journalist groups had addressed aletter to the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud demanding actions against what they called a “crackdown” on journalism.
The letter had asserted that “laptops and phones are no longer just official tools used to conduct official business. They have fundamentally become an extension of one’s self”.
“These devices are integrated into our entire lives and have vital personal information contained in them— from communication to photographs to conversations with family and friends. There is no reason or justification that investigating agencies should have access to such material.”
Several national and international agencies have developed guidelines regarding search and seizure of electronic devices.