SC asks Centre to file fresh reply on plea seeking guidelines on seizure of electronic devices

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The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to file a fresh response on a plea filed by a group of academics seeking directions to the police and investigating agencies to specify guidelines on seizing, examining and preserving personal digital and electronic devices and their contents, Live Law reported.

“We are not satisfied with the counter and we seek a new and proper reply,” a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh ordered.

The five academics who filed the writ petition are former 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 several directions to be given to the investigating agencies and the police. including seeking permission of a judicial magistrate before accessing or seizing electronic devices and specifying how the material to be examined is relevant or linked to the alleged offence.

In the counter-affidavit, the Centre had stated that the plea is not maintainable. At Thursday’s hearing, the court expressed its dissatisfaction on the Centre’s response.

“The counter affidavit is not complete,” the judges said. “Saying not maintainable, etc., is not enough. Please look into it yourself additional solicitor general [SV Raju].”

The bench also asked the Centre to refer to the international practices in these matters, Live Law reported.

The matter will be heard on September 26.

The plea

In the case or 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 powers of search and seizure, particularly because they engage fundamental rights, ought to be therefore read and supplied with adequate safeguards such that they are not abused to defeat such rights,” the petition stated, Live Law reported.

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, Bar and Bench reported.

“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.

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