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Rules soon on search or seizure of digital devices of scribes: Centre tells SC

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

Rules soon on search or seizure of digital devices of scribes: Centre tells SC

File Photo: Supreme Court

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

Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju informed a bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia that a committee has been formed, and the Central government would require more time to formulate the guidelines.

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

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

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 in relation to the recent Newsclick case.

In the last hearing of the matter on November 7, the top court had said that the search and seizure of digital devices of the media professionals is a “serious matter” that includes the protection of the sources of media professions 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.”

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

However, the bench had said that there has to be a balancing of interest 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 November 7, 2023.

The top court is hearing of a public interest plea 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 Foundation has sought adequate legal safeguards for the right to privacy in the digital space.

The petition has 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”.

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