Centre to SC: Right to Privacy is Not Absolute Right, Subjected to Restrictions Based on Compelling Public Interest

Sakina Tashriwala

Published on: 27 November 2022 at 18:27 IST

The petition of a group of academics and researchers seeking guidelines to control investigative authorities on the seizure, examination, and preservation of personal digital and electronic devices and their contents has received a response from the Central Government of India.

The Centre has said that there cannot be any general instructions to return confiscated devices that are the subject of an inquiry, yet objecting to the return of academics’ personal digital and electronic equipment.

The accused may, in the right circumstances, be permitted to request cloned pictures of the hard drives of the devices that the investigating agency has confiscated in accordance with Section 451 of the CrPC, according to the Centre’s submission.

However, the centre argued that a general order calling for the return of all gadgets would not be acceptable because the level of sensitivity changes depending on the situation.

According to the centre, even if the concept of human autonomy and liberty is implied in the right to privacy, this right is not inalienable and may be subject to limitations based on compelling public interest.

The Centre added that the great majority of the petitioners’ concerns had been acknowledged and could be resolved by following the CBI Manual, 2020.

The CBI Manual addressed the topic of digital evidence and created a method with protections that were in line with the legislative and constitutional provisions of the country. It was also noted that the majority of agencies had procedural SOPs on the subject.

According to the Centre, consistent regulations for all law enforcement agencies could only be released following extensive consultation with all parties, including the States, while taking into account the federal government’s structure and the articles in the 7th schedule.

Ram Ramaswamy, a former professor and researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Sujata Patel, a professor at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Madhava Prasad, a professor of cultural studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Mukul Kesavan, a professor of modern Indian history at Jamia Millia Islamia, and theoretical ecological economist Deepak Malghan are among the petitioners in the case The petition further stated:

In the case of the seizure of electronic equipment, there is a significant risk of destruction, distortion, loss, or premature exposure of academic or literary work since the academic community conducts and saves its research and writing on electronic or digital media.

The Centre was recently fined Rs. 25,000 by the court for neglecting to file the counter-affidavit.

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