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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Delhi HC tells IT dept to ensure Newslaundry co-founder’s data is protected: ‘Legally, morally wrong to leak pvt data’

Abhinandan Sekhri said the data downloaded during a recent IT survey at the news portal's office may include information on investigative stories

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: September 17, 2021 7:07:32 pm
newslaundry it raid abhinandan sekhriNewslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri. (Express File/Praveen Khanna)

Observing that it was legally as well as morally wrong to leak private data, the Delhi High Court Friday asked the IT Department to ensure that Newslaundry co-founder Abhinandan Sekhri’s personal data is not leaked. The data from Sekhri’s laptop and phone was downloaded by IT officials last week during a ‘survey’ at the news portal’s office.

“We have seen it on channels, people’s data that has been seized is openly being displayed, that should not happen. We don’t know who leaks it. You will have to take precaution that it is not leaked. Given an undertaking that it will not be leaked, Mr [Siddhartha] Dave [Newslaundry’s lawyer) will be satisfied,” observed Justice Manmohan and Justice Navin Chawla.

The court made the observations during the hearing of a petition filed by Newslaundry Media Private Limited and Sekhri against the survey and for a direction against leaking of any material, including private chats or communication, to any third party including the media. While asking the counsel representing the IT department to come back with instructions, the court listed the matter for hearing on Tuesday.

It also said that the agencies should investigate but never leak data as that will give away any leads they have. “This case is only different because the press is on the other side this time. They are the people who object to such orders being passed. It (leakage of data) is contrary to their (agencies) interest, the public interest, the person who has been searched. It’s totally wrong – ethically, morally, legally, everyway,” said the court.
Advocate Ajit Sharma, representing the department, argued that the IT department is seized of data of not just one assessee but thousands. “We will ensure that it is not leaked and will come back with instructions so that we can make that statement in court,” he added.

“It is just a mere bald apprehension that this data will be leaked by the income tax department because the petitioner happens to be a journalist,” Sharma submitted, adding that the data which the IT department has seized can only be used as per law.

Sekhri’s counsel Dave earlier submitted before the court that the Ist and 2nd notices under Section 131(1A) of Income Tax Act were received by Newslaundry in June and the third notice was issued in September. During the survey, under Section 133A (3) (1a) of the Act, between September 10 and 11, Dave said, six items including data from Sekhri’s phone and laptop were impounded.

“This breaches my right to privacy. The data may contain certain investigative stories that I may be doing; may be against the government, may be against other persons. It also contains a lot of my personal information,” Dave, representing Sekhri, argued, adding that he was worried about any leak that may happen and use of the data by the IT department in some other manner.

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