The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that there should be guidelines in place to govern the search and seizure of phones or other digital devices belonging to individuals, particularly media professionals.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia said that media professionals could have confidential information or details about their sources on their devices.
“It’s a serious matter. These are media professionals who will have their own sources and other things. There must be some guidelines. If you take everything away, there is a problem. You must ensure that there are some guidelines,” the bench told the Centre.
The apex court was hearing a PIL filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals which urged the court to establish safeguards against unreasonable interference by law enforcement agencies and create comprehensive guidelines for the search and seizure of digital devices.
Appearing for the Central government, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju told the apex court that the authorities cannot be shut out from examining such devices.
He said, “But there are anti-nationals who may… We cannot be shut out completely. Media cannot be above the law.”
Justice Kaul said that guidelines were required to ensure that the powers of the agency were not misused in this respect.
“Mr Raju, I am finding it very difficult to accept some kind of all-within power that the agencies have… This is very dangerous. You must have better guidelines. If you want us to do it, we will do it. But my view is that you ought to do it yourself. It’s time that you ensure that this is not misused. It can’t be a State that is run only through its agencies. We will give you time, no difficulty. But you must analyse what kind of guidelines are necessary to protect them. To some extent, this is not adversarial in that sense,” the bench said.
Posting the matter for hearing on December 6, the top court in its order stated, “We have put to the ASG that there has to be a balancing of interests and proper guidelines need to be in place to protect the interest of media professionals. We would like the ASG to work on this and come back on this issue. This is more so in view of the aspect that privacy is held to be a fundamental right.”
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”.
The petitioner argued that it has a specific interest in advocating for adequate legal safeguards for the right to privacy in the digital space. (ANI)