Guidelines on search or seizure of digital devices of media professionals to be prepared soon, Centre tells SC

ASG SV Raju informed the court that a committee was formed, and the Union government would require more time to formulate the guidelines.

ByParmod Kumar

Published Dec 06, 2023 | 7:56 PMUpdatedDec 06, 2023 | 7:57 PM

Supreme Court of India

The Union government on Wednesday, 6 December, informed the Supreme Court that the guidelines to regulate the seizure of phones and other digital devices of media professionals and individuals will be framed soon.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju informed a bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia that a committee had been formed in this regard.

He added that the Union government would require more time to formulate the guidelines.

Pointing out that two years had passed since the petition was filed, the bench said, “When did we issue notice? Some time frame has to be followed. Two years have passed.”

As ASG Raju assured the court that the guidelines would be ready by next week, the bench said, “Get it done,” and posted the matter for hearing on 14 December.

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Urgent need for guidelines 

Appearing for the petitioners including Foundation for Media Professionals, senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, pointed to the urgent need for guidelines and suggested that copies of necessary data on devices could be taken instead of seizing the entire content.

She said that nearly 300 journalists were raided concerning the recent Newsclick case.

In the last hearing of the matter on 7 November, the top court said that the search and seizure of digital devices of the media professionals was a “serious matter” that included the protection of the sources of media professionals and their right to privacy.

Justice Kaul had observed in the last hearing that “These are media professionals, they will have on their phone’s sources, contacts. So, there must be some guidelines. This is serious.”

ASG Raju in the last hearing told the court: “But there are anti-nationals who may … We cannot be shut out completely. Media cannot be above the law.”

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‘Balancing of interests’

However, the bench had said that there has to be a balancing of interests including the right to privacy,

“…There has to be a balancing of interests and better guidelines need to be in place to protect media professionals. We would like ASG to work on this and come back on this issue. In view of the aspect that privacy is held to be a fundamental right”, the bench had said in its order on 7 November.

The top court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the Foundation for Media Professionals seeking framing of the guidelines for the search and seizure of digital devices by law enforcement agencies.

The petitioner has sought adequate legal safeguards for the right to privacy in the digital space.

The petition stated the increasing reliance on personal digital devices by media professionals for their journalistic work, which often involves handling “confidential information of public value, private correspondence with sources and whistle-blowers, and remote collaboration to break news stories in the public interest”.