Need to strike a balance between investigative imperatives, privacy rights: CJI to central agencies

He was delivering 20th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture at CBI Raising Day celebrations

cji-lecture Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud delivering the 20th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture at CBI Raising Day celebrations in New Delhi

At a time when raids, seizures, and arrests by central agencies are heating up the political arena, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, on Monday, said there is a pressing need to strike a balance between investigative imperatives and individual privacy rights.

Referring to the existing legal framework and investigative procedures for electronic device searches and seizures, the Chief Justice reminded the central agencies of the 2020 CBI crime manual on digital evidence which provides essential guidelines for investigative functions of the CBI, including arrests and seizures.

“It (CBI manuals) emphasises the importance of scrupulous adherence to established procedures and introduces accountability for deviations,” said Justice Chandrachud while delivering the 20th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture, marking the commemoration of the CBI Raising Day celebrations.

In a hall packed with sleuths and top brass of central investigating and intelligence agencies at Bharat Mandapam in the national capital, the CJI referred to incidents of “unwarranted confiscation of personal devices” to outline the importance of upholding the due process of law, especially when the entire criminal justice system is staring at a complete overhaul with the new criminal laws coming into force from July 1.

The new criminal laws allow law enforcement agencies to take into account digital evidence, and it is here where due caution and processes need to be followed to ensure privacy rights are not breached. The CJI’s reference to the plea filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals last year, flagging concerns raised by journalists and academicians in the absence of guidelines on electronic device seizures, was a reiteration of the apex court order in December asking central agencies to follow the CBI manual on digital evidence till new guidelines are framed.

The CBI manual mandates the provision of hash values for confiscated digital devices like mobile phones and laptops during an investigation. Hash values are akin to electronic fingerprints generated under the Information Technology Act, he said.

The CJI said the manual also mandates the creation of an image of seized electronic documents at the time of seizure for further safeguarding against tampering or manipulation.

As the government prepares to modernise the justice system, from the initial registration of the first information report to the final delivery of judgement, the CJI’s words of caution were heard carefully by the audience.

The CBI themed its annual lecture 'Adopting Technology to Advance Criminal Justice' and the CJI clearly showed the way forward for the premier agencies. From using technology to avoid delays in justice delivery by courts by recording evidence through video conferencing wherever possible, allowing witnesses, experts, accused individuals and other parties to be present virtually and asking central agencies to make case diaries available in the digital format, he outlined the key issues that can be addressed by both the investigating agencies and judiciary immediately.

The CJI also cautioned the CBI from spreading itself too thin by taking up a “diverse array of criminal cases”, which not only puts pressure on it’s officers who are largely on deputation but takes the CBI away from it’s core competency of fighting graft in the interest of national security, public order and economic offences against the country. 


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