SC to examine if asking accused to share location with investigators through mobile phone as bail condition violates right to privacy

The Supreme Court Tuesday agreed to examine whether one of the conditions imposed by the Delhi High Court asking an accused to “drop a Google pin” from his mobile phone to enable investigators to track his movement while on bail violated the fundamental right to privacy.

In a landmark decision, a nine-judge Constitution bench had on August 24, 2017 unanimously declared that the right to privacy was a fundamental right under the Constitution.

A bench comprising Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal took note of the condition and said prima facie it was violative of the right to privacy of the accused enlarged on bail.

“You must explain to us the practical effect of such a condition. Once a person is set at liberty, certain conditions are imposed. But here you are tracking the movement after grant of bail, is not this violative of right to privacy?” the bench asked.

The Delhi High Court had granted bail to Raman Bhuraria, an auditor, on February 8 this year. He was arrested in connection with a money laundering probe arising from an alleged Rs 3,269 crore financial irregularity case against Shakti Bhog Foods Ltd.

The high court had imposed several bail conditions and one of them read: “The applicant shall drop a Google pin location from his mobile phone to the IO concerned which shall be kept operational throughout his bail.”

Fixing the plea for hearing on December 12, the top court agreed to examine the validity of the condition, observing that prima facie it violated the fundamental right to privacy.

The counsel for the Enforcement Directorate referred to usual bail conditions where accused are required to report to the investigating officers every week.

“This is only technology facilitating the same thing,” the ED’s lawyer said.

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“But that is different from tracking the movement of the accused,” the bench said.

Justice Jasmeet Singh of the high court had, while granting bail to Bhuraria, who was arrested by the ED in August 2021, observed that a prima facie case for his release was made out and any further pretrial incarceration would be a deprivation of his personal liberty and a travesty of justice.

The ED’s money laundering case against Shakti Bhog Foods Limited was based on a CBI FIR that accused the company and its promoters of criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal misconduct. The CBI FIR followed a complaint by the State Bank of India against the company.

According to the SBI, the directors falsified accounts and forged documents to siphon off public funds.

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