The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court it needs more time to come out with guidelines on search and seizure of personal digital devices of journalists and other citizens by investigating agencies.
“We need some more time for the guidelines. A committee has been formed. We will come out with something positive,” additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju, appearing for the Centre, told the bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
Justice Kaul was not impressed.
“When did we issue notice? Some time frame has to be followed. Two years have passed, Mr Raju!” Justice Kaul said, pointing out that the court had issued notice for the government’s response way back in 2021.
The bench, which included Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, adjourned the matter for
further hearing on December 14.
The court was hearing two PILs filed by the NGO Foundation for Media Professionals and some academics seeking guidelines to prevent abuse of power by the agencies in seizing personal data.
Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the NGO, stressed the urgent need for guidelines. She cited the NewClick raids in which 300 devices were seized, and said: “This is absolutely an assault.”
On November 7, the bench had given the Centre a month’s time to come out with guidelines to prevent arbitrary seizure and search operations by investigating agencies against journalists and media houses, saying the “State cannot be run only through its agencies”. It termed a “serious matter”, the perceived unbridled powers of the government.
At the last hearing, the bench had also warned that the court itself would formulate the guidelines if necessary, but would rather prefer the government come out with the measures.
“Mr Raju, I am finding it very difficult to accept some kind of all-within power that the agencies have. This is very dangerous. You must have better guidelines. If you want us to do it, then we will do it. But my view is that you ought to do it yourself. It is time that you ensure it is not misused. It can’t be a state that’s run only through its agencies. We will give you time, no difficulty. But you must analyse what kind of guidelines are necessary to protect them…. There should be better guidelines for media professionals. Media professionals have their own sources. We have held the right to privacy a fundamental right. There should be a balance,” Justice Kaul told the ASG.
The bench made the observations while dealing with a PIL filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals seeking appropriate guidelines to prevent arbitrary exercise of search and seizure of digital records, laptops, mobiles and computers by the investigating agencies, which it said has a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by the fourth estate.