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Search and Seizure of Devices and Freedom of Speech


The recent directive from the Supreme Court instructing the Union government to establish guidelines for safeguarding the interests of media professionals regarding the confiscation of their digital devices is a crucial initial measure.



  • Fundamental Rights
  • Indian Constitution
  • Right to Information
  • Transparency & Accountability
  • Government Policies & Interventions
  • E-Governance

Mains Question:

“Unfettered powers to seize devices threaten freedom of speech.” Analyse in the context of seizure of digital devices of media persons by the government and its agencies. (10 marks, 150 words).

Impact of Such Seizure Incidents:

  • Recent incidents involving the seizure and examination of laptops and smartphones belonging to journalists have raised concerns not only within the media community but also among whistleblowers and individuals providing information under the assurance of anonymity.
  • The ability to seize a journalist’s communication devices and scrutinize their data based on unsubstantiated allegations jeopardizes sources and hampers the effectiveness of journalists in performing their duties.
  • This not only infringes upon press freedom but also impacts the livelihood of journalists, considering that digital devices are essential tools of their trade.

The Recent Guidelines of the Supreme Court:

  • The proposed guidelines should explicitly prohibit law enforcement agencies from seizing or searching devices without obtaining a prior judicial warrant, specifying the information they anticipate finding.
  • This approach aims to prevent indiscriminate searches and ensures that journalists are not compelled to self-incriminate or disclose information about their sources, including passcodes or biometric data.
  • The Court’s emphasis on a “balancing of interests” in its directive to the Additional Solicitor-General underscores the importance of drafting these guidelines transparently and involving public consultations.
  • Recognizing privacy as a fundamental right, the Court indicates that this issue affects all citizens whose personal and professional lives are increasingly stored in vulnerable handheld devices.

Way Forward:

  • The guidelines should incorporate protocols to protect devices and data, preventing leakage, tampering, or unauthorized sharing of information with third parties.
  • Additionally, provisions must be in place to delete irrelevant data promptly during investigations.
  • Technological measures, such as device cloning, should be allowed to enable journalists to continue their work without being deprived of their data for an unspecified duration.
  • Creating a record of the device at the time of seizure is essential to prevent the planting of incriminating material during the investigation.


Beyond addressing concerns specific to media professionals, there is a broader need to update laws governing search and seizure by law enforcement agencies to account for the evolving digital landscape.

December 2023