Deliberations on for framing guidelines on seizure of electronic devices: Centre tells SC

Several rounds of talks have been held in order to formulate guidelines for seizure of electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops of individuals, especially those from the media, in the course of criminal investigations, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday. It said until the time the new guidelines are put in place, central probe agencies will follow the CBI manual for search and seizure of such equipment.

The apex court had on November 7 asked the Centre to put in place guidelines on seizure of electronic devices of individuals, particularly media professionals, saying impounding equipment without following a regulation was a serious matter.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, appearing for the Centre, told a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia that the authorities concerned have deliberated on the proposed guidelines several times.

“ASG submits that in the conspectus of the existing CBI manual and the Karnataka cyber crime investigation manual and the suggestions put forth by the petitioners, a number of discussions have been held and he would come up with something within six weeks,” the bench noted.

“In the meantime, he assures the court that for the time being, at least the CBI manual will be followed by all the central government agencies,” it said.

The top court was hearing two petitions, including one filed by ‘Foundation For Media Professionals’, seeking comprehensive guidelines for search and seizure of digital devices by investigative agencies.

Raju said finalisation of the guidelines will take some time as consultation was also required with forensic laboratories and experts.

“The problem is this. In the interregnum period, it is in limbo ,” the bench observed, adding one of the petitions in the matter was filed in 2021.

“That is why they (petitioners) are concerned. How much time do you feel you require,” the court asked Raju, adding, “You are holding meetings but when will the output come.”

The ASG told the court it will take at least one month to come out with the guidelines.

“Don’t make it the bare minimum. Make it maximum,” the bench said. Raju responded, “Then three months”.

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“Are you willing to make a statement that in the meantime, you will follow one of the existing manuals at least,” the bench said, after the government lawyer referred to the CBI manual and the Karnataka cyber crime investigation manual.

When the counsel representing one of the petitioners requested the court to pass some direction, the bench said these matters cannot be finished off just like that.

The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on February 6.

During the hearing on December 6, the Centre had assured the court the guidelines for seizure of electronic equipment will be put in place.

When the apex court was hearing the matter earlier, one of the counsel appearing for the petitioners had said the issue raised was of seminal importance as there were no guidelines on when and how the probe agencies can seize electronic devices.

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