SC Fines on Centre for Failing to File Response Against Plea of Seizure of Electronic Devices

Supreme Court LAW INSIDER

Savvy Thakur

Published on: 14 November 2022 at 19:14 IST

Supreme Court recently imposed fine on Centre of Rs 25,000 for failing to respond to a plea seeking directions to the police and investigating agencies regarding the specific guidelines for the seizure, examination, and preservation of digital and electronic devices and their contents.

A bench composed of Justices AS Oka and Sanjay Kishan Kaul requested that the government submit the response within two weeks and stated that it would be recorded once the cost was paid by the Centre.

On November 11, the directive was handed down.

The writ petition was brought before the court by five academics: Ram Ramaswamy, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University; Sujata Patel, a professor at Savitribai Phule Pune University; Madhava Prasad, a professor of cultural studies at Hyderabad’s English and Foreign Languages University; Mukul Kesavan, a professor of modern Indian history at Jamia Millia Islamia; and Deepak Mal

The petitioners have requested that the investigating agencies and the police be given a number of instructions, including permission from a judicial magistrate before accessing or seizing electronic devices and specifying how the material is related to the alleged crime.

The Centre stated that the plea could not be maintained in a counter affidavit submitted at the case’s final hearing on August 5.

However, the court requested a new response from the Centre because the submitted report was not satisfactory.

The judges had said, “The counter affidavit is not complete.” & “Saying things like not maintainable, is not sufficient.”

The case is set to be listed before the court on December 5 of next year.

In the case of urgent seizures, the petition argued that the owner of the device should be informed in writing of the reasons for not seeking permission. Passwords should not be made available to the owner of the electronic device; instead, a copy of the hard drive should ideally be taken, and the hard disks should be examined in the owner’s presence.

The petition stated that the powers of search and seizure, particularly because they engage fundamental rights, ought to be therefore read and provided with adequate safeguards such that they are not abused to defeat such rights.

Further plea also mentions that devices seized from the owner mostly belongs to the academic background or are well-known authors.

The petition went on to say that “the academic community conducts and stores its research and writing in the electronic or digital medium,” and that “the threat of damage, distortion, loss, or premature exposure of academic or literary work in the event of seizure of electronic devices is considerable.”

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