SC to Fine Union Govt for Delayed Reply on Plea for Rules to Regulate Seizure of Electronic Devices

The apex court had in August said it is not satisfied with the Union government's affidavit and had asked it to put more details on record.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will impose costs of Rs 25,000 on the Union government if and when it files its response – as promised – in a petition filed by academics who had asked for guidelines to be framed when it came to the seizure, examination and preservation of electronic devices by investigating agencies.

The Centre’s counter-affidavit was due earlier and is now expected to be submitted in two weeks.

The apex court had in August said it is not satisfied with the Union government’s affidavit. The original plea was filed by Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ram Ramaswamy, Savitribai Phule Pune University professor Sujata Patel, English and Foreign Languages University professor Madhava Prasad, Jamia Millia Islamia professor Mukul Kesavan and theoretical ecological economist Deepak Malghan, according to a Bar and Bench report.

The petitioners had noted that a lifetime’s work remains stored in personal devices and that seizures could lead to irreparable losses if not regulated.

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 had orally observed, asking the Union government to ensure that proper material, including about international practices on the issue, are placed on record.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S.V. Raju, appearing for the Union government had told the bench that the Union government will file a detailed affidavit and requested for six weeks’ time.

The Hindu notes that another petition on the same topic by the Foundation for Media Professionals was attached to the first one. It alleged that the existing rules were inadequate when it came to regulating the police’s power to go through and take possession of privately owned digital devices.

On October 31, the Delhi Police Crime Branch seized the devices belonging to The Wire‘s founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan, M.K. Venu, Sidharth Bhatia, deputy editor Jahnavi Sen and product-cum-business head Mithun Kidambi pursuant to a Section 91 notice issued in relation to an FIR lodged against them by BJP leader Amit Malviya. The Wire’s office in Delhi was also searched and the hard disks from two computers used by accounts staff was seized.

The Wire has noted that no hash value – a unique numerical value used to ensure the integrity of a device and its data – of the phones, computers and iPads seized was given.

The Hindu’s report carries quotes from experts in the field, essaying the current procedure of seizing electronic devices.

A Delhi Police officer, who remains anonymous, is quoted as claiming that the hash value of the digital document is not provided to the accused at the time of seizure and “is only provided later to the court for verifying the evidence’s authenticity.”