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Supreme Court seeks fresh reply from Centre on plea related to functioning of investigating agencies, preservation of electronic data

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The Supreme Court directed the Central government on Friday to file a fresh reply over the petition filed by a group of academicians and researchers seeking guidelines to govern the investigating agencies in the country with respect to seizure, examination and preservation of personal digital and electronic devices, as well as their content.

A Bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M.M. Sundresh told the Central government that the counter-affidavit filed by it was incomplete and not satisfactory. Merely stating that the plea is not maintainable is not enough, it added.

The Court further said that such devices also carry personal content or work, which need to be protected since the livelihood of people in academia depend on it.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju assured the Court that the government will apply its mind in it.

The petitioners in the case include former JNU professor and researcher Ram Ramaswamy; professor at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Sujata Patel; professor of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Madhava Prasad; professor of Modern Indian history at Jamia Millia Islamia, Mukul Kesavan and theoretical ecological economist Deepak Malghan.

They contended that the entirely unguided power exercised by the investigative agencies to take control of devices that carry “much of a citizen’s personal and professional life, requires to be civilised by way of directives from the Supreme Court”.

Several of the persons from whom the devices have been seized in various cases in the recent past, are from the academic field or authors of repute, they added.

The plea also highlighted the fact that there was no procedure or guideline stipulated in any law or even in most police manuals of a mode appropriate to the recovery of electronic/digital material, which was distinct from the recovery of other kinds of material.

Referring to Article 15(1)(c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by India, the plea contended that the same binds State Parties to protect the moral and material interest in any scientific, literary or artistic work.

The petitioners expressed apprehension that in case the data and research of such academicians are tampered with or damaged, the loss to research in the sciences and social sciences is considerable and often irreplaceable.

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