Crime India law

Guidelines need to  protect journalists’ digital privacy: Supreme Court

By Our Legal  Correspondent

New  Delhi, Nob 08 (IVC)   The Honorable  Supreme Court  on Nov 07  highlighted the  need  to frame guidelines to  protect privacy of journalists  when their  personal digital  devices are  seized by  the  Central  Agencies.

                In a significant  step to  protect the  freedom of  press, a  Supreme  Court  Bench  consisted  of Justices  Sanjay  Kishan  Kaul  and Sudhanshu  Dhulia reminded the government  that  “privacy has  been  made a  fundamental  right”. The  petitioner ,  Foundation  for Media Professionals said  journalists  were  endlessly  harassed  and that their  digital devices  even contain  private  photos.  In some cases , taking away their digital devices robbed them  of  their  ability to  pay  their children’s school  fees.

                “We have made privacy  a  fundamental right… What is the  point of  that?” Justice  kaul  asked the Centre, represented  by Additional  Solicitor  General S  V  Raju.

                Mr  Raju  said the petitioners  wanted a virtual shutting out  of investigative agencies.  Disagreeing, Justice Kaul  said, “There  has  to be a  balancing  of  interests  and  proper  guidelines  need  to  be  placed  to  protect   the  interests of  the media  professionals”.

                The  apex court  directed Mr  Raju to “work”  on framing the  guidelines  and come back  to  the  court on  the  next  day  of  hearing , December  06.

                Senior  advocate Siddharth  Agarwal , for the  petitioner side,  said  there  were “hundreds of  journalists whose digital devices  are  taken  away en masse”. He  said there  were  no guidelines with  reference to  when and what may  be seized, what can be accessed, and what  kind  of protection is  ensured for  personal data, health  data, financial  data.

                “The entire   digital footprint is  on the  device.  Once  an  investigating  agency is involved, it  is  not  like  the  person can have  a back  up”, Mr  Agarwal argued. The   court  said  agencies  cannot  be  given an all encompassing power to  seize  the  personal digital  devices of citizens. It said  guidelines should  be  framed  by  the  government, if  not, by  the court  itself. 

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