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SC not satisfied with govt’s affidavit on plea for guidelines on seizure of personal digital devices

The Supreme Court on Friday said it is not satisfied with the Centre’s affidavit filed on a plea seeking suitable guidelines for the investigative agencies with respect to seizure, examination and preservation of personal digital and electronic devices and their content. A bench of Justices S K Kaul and M M Sundresh observed that electronic devices contain personal information and content which need to be protected.

“Today, people live on this,” the bench orally observed.

The apex court told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, appearing for the Centre, to ensure that proper material, including about international practices on the issue, are placed on record.

The ASG told the bench he will file a detailed affidavit and requested for six weeks’ time.

“You will have to go through the material and then decide. We are not satisfied with the counter affidavit filed,” the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing on September 26.

The top court had in March last year issued notice to the Centre on the plea, filed by five academicians, which sought guidelines with regard to seizure, examination and preservation of personal electronic devices and their content.

The court had said in its order of March last year at that stage it may be sufficient to issue notice to the Union of India and get its response before considering whether notices are required to be issued to other states.

During the hearing on Friday, the ASG said states may be asked to file their affidavits.

“We first wanted your stand,” the bench observed, adding, “The reason we did not issue notice to the states was that 20 states will come and 20 things will happen.”

The plea said the power of search and seizure concerns rights, such as right to privacy, and adequate safeguards should be there.

“Today, there are no specific and binding norms to guide the exercise of such power. Electronic data and devices are a class apart from any other physical object or thing. They contain an entire professional and personal world, most of which is no concern of any investigation. Data is amenable to easy change and to remote tampering,” the plea said.

The petition claimed the “entirely unguided power” exercised by the investigative agencies to take control of personal digital devices that contain much, if not all, of a citizen’s personal and professional life, requires to be civilised by way of directives from the apex court.

It sought a court’s directive to ensure the search and seizure of digital devices by the investigative agencies are by a procedure that safeguards right to privacy, right against self-incrimination, confidentiality of professional work among others.

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